MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota police officer on trial in the shooting death of Daunte Wright was expected to take the stand Friday, hoping to persuade jurors to acquit her of manslaughter charges in what she has said was a gun-Taser mixup.
A compressed defense case for Kim Potter appeared likely to wrap up after just two days, with jurors also expected to hear from an expert on how such errors can occur.
Potter, 49, shot Wright after he pulled away from officers seeking to arrest him on a weapons warrant on April 11 in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center. Body-camera video recorded her shouting “I’ll tase you!” and “Taser, Taser, Taser!” before firing once.
The death of Wright set off angry demonstrations for several days in Brooklyn Center. It happened as another white former officer, Derek Chauvin, was standing trial in nearby Minneapolis for the killing of George Floyd.
Besides arguing that Wright’s death was a tragic mistake, Potter’s attorneys have also said that she would have been justified in using deadly force to stop Wright from driving away and possibly dragging one of Potter’s fellow officers.
Potter’s chief at the time, Tim Gannon, testified on her behalf Thursday. Gannon called Potter “a fine officer” and said he “saw no violation” of policy by her in the traffic stop.
Gannon resigned two days after the shooting, saying he was essentially forced out because he wouldn’t immediately fire Potter. Potter resigned the same day.
Under questioning from Potter attorney Earl Gray, Gannon testified that he viewed body-camera video immediately after the shooting and dashcam video recently, and when he had “all the data in front of me, I saw no violation.”
“Violation of what?” Gray asked.
“Of policy, procedure or law,” Gannon said.
Prosecutor Matthew Frank jabbed at Gannon on cross-examination, asking him whether it was consistent with policy “for an officer to not know they have their firearm in their hand when they shoot it.”
Prosecutors argue that Potter was an experienced officer who had been thoroughly trained in the use of a Taser, including warnings about the danger of confusing one with a handgun. They have to prove recklessness or culpable negligence in order to win a conviction on the manslaughter charges.
Gannon testified that it appeared to him from dashcam video that Sgt. Mychal Johnson, who was assisting in the stop, was “leaning into” Wright’s car. He said it was his opinion that deadly force was reasonable.
Gannon recalled his own experience in a situation where he was dragged by a car. He said he felt “sheer terror” and a feeling of “simply trying to survive.”
Gannon said Potter was known for handling calls, acting professionally and writing good police reports. He testified that she volunteered with a group that helped families when officers were killed in the line of duty. She also worked with domestic abuse victims and was a field training officer.
Earlier Thursday, the defense opened its case with use-of-force expert Stephen Ijames, a former assistant police chief in Springfield, Missouri. Ijames testified that officers were legally bound to arrest Wright after discovering he had a warrant for an outstanding weapons violation.
Ijames also testified it was very unlikely that Wright could have driven away had Potter actually used her Taser. That contradicted a prosecution use-of-force expert who testified earlier that using either a gun or a Taser on Wright would have made things worse because he could have been incapacitated and his vehicle could have become a weapon.
After Potter shot Wright, his car took off and crashed seconds later into an oncoming vehicle, hurting his passenger and someone in the other car.
Ijames, who said he wrote the Taser policy for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, told the court Thursday that he disagreed with the prosecution use-of-force expert, Seth Stoughton, who testified that Potter was too close to Wright for the Taser to be effective.
The defense also called several character witnesses for Potter who testified she is a peaceful person. Former Brooklyn Center Officer Colleen Fricke testified about working alongside Potter, saying she saw her as a mentor and friend.
Fricke was asked to watch over Potter after the shooting. “I saw her curled up in the corner of the room” — by herself and crying, Fricke said.
After Fricke testified that Potter was law-abiding, prosecutor Joshua Larson said: “In terms of following the law, though, generally speaking, you’d agree that following the law on one day does not absolve you from accountability the next day.” The defense objected, stopping that line of questioning.
The case is being heard by a mostly white jury.