MINNEAPOLIS — Jurors in the manslaughter trial of former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter heard emotional testimony from Daunte Wright’s mother who said she spoke to her son moments before Potter shot him while yelling “Taser” in a Minneapolis suburb earlier this year.
Katie Bryant, 43, repeatedly broke down on the witness stand as she told jurors about her son, their final conversation and what she saw at the scene of the shooting.
“I was so confused, angry, scared,” she said. “It was the worst day of my life.”
Prosecutors say the veteran Brooklyn Center officer committed first- and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Wright, 20. Potter recklessly handled her firearm and caused Wright’s death by her “culpable negligence” – a conscious disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk, according to the complaint.
“This case is about the defendant, Kim Potter, betraying her oath, betraying her badge, and betraying her trust,” prosecutor Erin Eldridge said in her opening statement. “She had been trained year after year after year to prevent this kind of thing from happening, but she did it anyway.”
Defense attorneys say the shooting was an “accidental and mistaken discharge,” according to court filings. They argue Potter immediately expressed “remorse” for the shooting.
“She made a mistake. This was an accident. She’s a human being. And she had to do what she had to do to prevent a death of a fellow officer,” Potter’s defense attorney Paul Engh told jurors in his opening statement.
He later added, “Over the course of 26 years, she never fired a gun. She never fired one shot. She never fired her Taser. She never had to.”
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Bryant, the first witness called by the state, said her son called her shortly after leaving her house to get a car wash.
She said Wright told her he was being pulled over and “sounded really nervous, scared” before she heard an officer tell him to step out of the car, hang up the phone and to not run.
Moments later, the woman in the passenger seat video called her from Wright’s phone, told her he had been shot and turned the phone toward the driver’s seat.
“My son was laying there, he was unresponsive,” she said through tears. “He looked dead.”
After learning where the shooting took place, Bryant said she raced to the scene where she saw her son’s body under a white sheet on the ground in front of his car. Bryant said she wasn’t allowed to approach her son but identified him by his shoes and car.
“I wanted to go comfort my baby,” she said. “I wanted to protect him because that’s what mothers do.”
Under cross-examination, Bryant told defense attorney that before the shooting she did not know her son used marijuana or had a warrant for his arrest.
Kim Potter ‘became hysterical’ after shooting, another officer tells jury
Jurors also heard testimony and watched body and dash camera footage from the second witness for the prosecution, Brooklyn Center police officer Anthony Luckey, who attempted to arrest Wright before the shooting.
Luckey, 31, said he initiated the traffic stop after noticing Wright’s car had expired tags and an air freshener hanging from the review mirror.
Using an aerial photo of the intersection where the shooting took place, Luckey walked jurors through what happened during the stop. He said he observed marijuana odor and residue and Wright told him he did not have a license.
‘Wrong gun’ or manslaughter? Former Minnesota officer Kim Potter goes on trial for Daunte Wright shooting
Luckey agreed with prosecutors that Wright was respectful and did not give him any reason to believe he was armed. He also agreed the woman in the car did not appear to be in distress. Under cross-examination, he agreed with defense attorney Earl Gray that his “intuition” led him to believe Wright might have had a gun on him or in the car.
Luckey said he and Potter attempted to arrest Wright after learning he had a gross misdemeanor weapons charge and a protection order that barred him from having contact with a woman.
Jurors watched Luckey and Potter’s bodycam video of the incident shows Wright initially got out of the car and placed his hands behind his back. He then pulled away as an officer attempted to handcuff him and got back into the driver’s seat of the car. He agreed with the defense that Wright never stopped resisting him.
Luckey said he and Potter attempted to pull Wright out of the car while another officer tried to restrain him from the passenger side. He agreed that if Wright had been able to drive away that he and the other officer could’ve been injured or killed.
He said Wright did not have control of the car when he later heard Potter say she was going to “tase” him twice. Luckey told the jury that he would’ve used a Taser at that moment if he could have.
Luckey then saw a flash and heard the “bang” of a gunshot.He said he did not hear anything after the shot went off at close range, but video from the scene showed Potter shouted several expletives and said she “grabbed the wrong” gun.
Luckey said Wright’s car drove forward, “airborned over the median,” crashed into another vehicle and a fence, drawing the path for jurors on the photo. He said Potter “became hysterical” after the shooting. Luckey’s bodycam footage shows her sobbing on the ground as officers try to comfort her.
“She said I’m going to prison,” he said.
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Some residents are watching the proceedings closely, said Marcia Howard, a high school teacher who has been occupying the area known as George Floyd Square nearly every day for the past 19 months.
“Our eyes are on this trial,” Howard said Tuesday evening in the 16-degree weather as she stoked a fire in the parking lot of a Speedway, across the street from where Floyd was murdered. Residents passed by to chat and sit by the fire. Howard said a group of people that meets at the square each morning and evening have been discussing the trial.
The words “Justice for Daunte Wright!” were written on the sign of the convenience store and gas station, and a poster bearing Wright’s image was placed beneath the sculpture of a raised fist in the middle of the intersection.
During the court’s lunch break on Wednesday, civil rights attorney Ben Crump and members of the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake Jr. stood alongside Wright’s family for a prayer vigil. Floyd’s brother Philonise said his family was there to stand in solidarity with Wright’s.
“The same way they honored us and helped us out there we’re coming here to show love because everybody needs this,” he said.
The proceedings mark the second time in Minnesota state history that opening statements in a criminal trial were livestreamed. The first time was earlier this year for the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murdering Floyd.
About 10 miles away, in Brooklyn Center, an identical sculpture of a raised fist marks the site where Wright was shot. Candles encircle the sculpture, and photos, posters, flowers and Christmas lights hang from the fence lining the yard of a house. A sign with the words “Daunte Dr” hangs from a telephone pole covered in dozens of tree-shaped air fresheners.
“Even though Kim Potter is on trial, law enforcement is as well, and our judicial system is as well,” Howard said.
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Activists called for Potter to face murder charges after the shooting. The first-degree manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and/or a $30,000 fine. The second-degree charge has a maximum sentence of 10 years and/or a $20,000 fine.
Fourteen people – 12 jurors and two alternates – are set to hear evidence in the case. The jury, which will remain anonymous until the conclusion of the trial, includes six men and six women whose ages range from 20s to 60s. Nine are white, two are Asian and one is Black, according to how the jurors self-identified to the court. The alternates are a white woman in her 70s and a white man in his 30s.
About 68% of Hennepin County residents are non-Hispanic white, nearly 14% are Black, 7.5% are Asian, and 7% are Hispanic or Latino, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The jury, with nine white panelists, is 75% white.
While the Chauvin trial was marked by heavy security measures – with concentric rings of concrete barriers, razor-wire and tall metal fences encircling the Hennepin County Government and members of the Minnesota National Guard present – fewer security measures appeared to be in place for the Potter trial.