BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. – The former Brooklyn Center police officer charged with second-degree manslaughter in the shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright made her first court appearance Thursday.
Kim Potter appeared briefly on Zoom for a largely procedural first appearance court hearing. She was seated in the office of her attorney, Earl Gray, and spoke only to confirm her presence at the hearing. Her next court date is scheduled for May 17.
Potter, 48, fatally shot Wright during a traffic stop Sunday. In charging documents, prosecutors said Potter’s “culpable negligence” caused Wright’s death and “created an unreasonable risk” when she shot him instead of using her Taser.
Body-worn camera footage shows Potter pointing her firearm at Wright as she shouts “Taser,” and the city’s former police chief described the incident as “an accidental discharge.”
At a news conference Thursday, Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, said she feels like she will never get justice for her son. “Justice would be bringing our son home to us,” she said.
Wright said she wants accountability to the highest level.
“If that even happens, we’re still going to bury our son,” she added.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump compared the case against Potter to that of officer Mohamed Noor, a Black former Minneapolis police officer who fatally shot a white woman, Justine Ruszczyk Damond, in 2017.
Noor was convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 12½ years in prison. He testified he shot Damond when she approached his squad car in an alley. He said he heard a bang on the side of the driver’s side of the squad car and thought Damond was a threat.
Crump also criticized police’s explanation of the shooting, holding up printed-out photos of a Glock pistol and a Taser. Potter used excessive force in the stop and Wright should not have been pulled over for a minor infraction like an expired car registration during the COVID-19 pandemic, Crump said.
“So, it’s very difficult for this family to accept that this is an accident when you have a veteran who’s been on the police for 26 years,” Crump said.
The Wright family would be going to the funeral home to see Daunte for the first time Thursday, Crump said. Wright’s funeral will be held next Thursday, with civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton delivering the eulogy, he added.
Potter faces up to 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine if found guilty. She was arrested Wednesday and released on a $100,000 bond.
“We will vigorously prosecute this case and intend to prove that Officer Potter abrogated her responsibility to protect the public when she used her firearm rather than her Taser,” said Imran Ali, Washington County assistant criminal division chief. “Her action caused the unlawful killing of Mr. Wright and she must be held accountable.”
The Washington County Attorney Office’s is handling the charges against Potter after the Hennepin County Attorney referred the case following an agreement among prosecutors in the Minneapolis area to refer such cases of police use of deadly force.
Wright’s death has sparked protests around Minneapolis, an already tense area as the trial of Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd is in its third week of testimony.
Potter’s attorney, Gray, also represents Thomas Lane, a former Minneapolis police officer charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Gray didn’t respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment Thursday.
Potter, a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center police force, resigned Tuesday amid calls for her firing. Brooklyn Center police chief Tim Gannon also stepped down, and the city’s manager, Curt Boganey, was fired.
Wright’s family described their son as a loving father to his young son, Daunte Jr. He enjoyed sports and spending time with his family during the holidays.
Wright has said she was on the phone with Wright after he was pulled over. Wright told his mother he was being pulled over for air fresheners on his rearview mirror. Police later said the initial traffic stop was due to an expired registration.
Wright had an outstanding misdemeanor warrant on a weapons charge, which prompted the officers to try to arrest him.
Katie Wright said she told her son to give the phone to officers so she could tell them insurance information. She heard the officers tell Wright to exit the vehicle. Then she heard a scuffle and the phone hung up. When she called back, the woman in the car with Wright answered via video call and showed Wright’s body in the driver seat after being shot.
Potter’s body-worn camera footage shows her standing behind Wright’s vehicle as two other officers approach the car. As the one on the driver side begins to arrest Wright, a Black man, he stops. Potter, who is white, then grabs Wright’s arm, and Wright appears to reenter the driver seat as a struggle ensues.
Potter pulls out her firearm and points it at Wright as she shouts “Taser.” After she shoots Wright, Wright drives away, and Potter shouts “(Expletive), I just shot him.”
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Wright’s shooting is at least the 16th case of “weapons confusion” in the United States since 2001, and he is the fourth person to have died in such incidents, according to data compiled by the website FatalEncounters.org and University of Colorado professor Paul Taylor, who tracks such cases.
Wednesday night, a smaller crowd gathered outside the Brooklyn Center police headquarters, demanding justice and accountability for a fourth night. A curfew was in place again, and police issued dispersal orders around 9 p.m.
In a news conference early Thursday, Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matt Langer said about 24 had been arrested ranging from curfew violations to probable cause rioting.
Contributing: Elinor Aspegren