Minnesota police chief says he believes officer meant to grab Taser before shooting Black man during traffic stop

The police chief of a Minneapolis suburb said Monday he believes one of the department’s officers wanted to use a Taser but mistakenly drew her service weapon before she fatally shot a Black man point-blank during a traffic stop the day before.

The Brooklyn Center Police Department released body-camera video of Sunday’s encounter, which ended in the death of Daunte Wright, 20, who was shot in the suburb about 14 miles north of where George Floyd was killed last year.

The video appeared to show Wright getting out of his car and then getting back in as officers tried to apprehend him on an undisclosed outstanding misdemeanor warrant that they discovered after they pulled him over.

As Wright got back into his car, a female voice could be heard shouting “Taser!” before Wright was shot, video appeared to show.

That same female voice could be heard saying, “Holy s— I just shot him,” as the car pulled away, police said.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is investigating the shooting, Monday night identified the officer as Kim Potter, a 26-year department veteran.

Wright died of a gunshot wound to the chest, according to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner, which classified the manner of death as a homicide.

Police Chief Tim Gannon said he believes it is clear the officer meant to draw a Taser but “drew their handgun instead of their Taser.”

“As I watched the video and listened to the officer’s commands, it is my belief the officer had the intention to deploy their Taser but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet,” Gannon told reporters. “This appears to me from what I viewed and the officer’s reaction in distress immediately after that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in a tragic death of Mr. Wright.”

Mayor Mike Elliott said he wants the officer, who has been placed on administrative leave, fired.

“We cannot afford to make mistakes that lead to the loss of life,” Elliott said. “I do fully support releasing the officer of her duties.”

Gannon stopped just short of agreeing with the mayor’s call to terminate her, but he strongly hinted that she will not be back on the job.

“That officer is afforded due process just like anybody else does. She has the right to be heard. She has the right to give her statement. She has the right to tell what she felt, what she thought,” Gannon said.

“She will not be returning to duty until this investigation has run its course. And for all intents and purposes, I think we can look at the video and ascertain whether she’ll be returning,” he said.

The shooting will be handled by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Gannon said he believes the state investigators would have disagreed with his decision to release the body-cam video.

“The releasing of video this early … is not something that they condone,” Gannon said. “I felt the community needed to know what happened. They needed to see it. I needed to be transparent, and I wanted to be forthright.”

Unrest from the deadly incident prompted Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz to announce a 7 p.m.-to-6 a.m. curfew for Hennepin, Ramsey and Anoka counties, which cover the greater Twin Cities.

After curfew Monday, there were clashes between crowds and police. Fireworks were set off, and bangs, which were accompanied by smoke or gas, were heard.

Around 9:40 p.m., police in riot gear and an armored vehicle pushed down a street near the police department, sending people running. There were a series of loud bangs and gas or smoke. Video showed a line of police pushing people from a shopping center parking lot, where at least one store appeared to have been damaged.

Protesters chanted “say his name” and “no justice, no peace.” One demonstrator said she had a hard time understanding how an officer could have mistaken a handgun for a Taser, noting the difference in weight. “I’ve shot a gun. I’ve held a Taser,” she said. “I’m a beginner shooter, I can tell the difference.”

About 40 people were arrested, Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matt Langer said early Tuesday. Some sporadic looting happened near the police department, officials said. A few officers suffered minor injuries from thrown debris, Langer said. He was not aware of injuries to any demonstrators.

Elliot also announced efforts to reorganize the city’s government on Monday. The Brooklyn Center City Manager Curt Boganey was “relieved of his duties” Elliot tweeted, but did not cite a reason for the ousting. Boganey would not commit to saying whether he believed the officer who shot Wright should be fired when asked by reporters on Monday afternoon, according to NBC affiliate KARE.

Elliot’s office will also oversee the police department after a 3-2 vote from city council.

“At such a tough time, this will streamline things and establish a chain of command and leadership,” Elliot said. “I appreciate the other councilmembers who voted to approve this motion.”

‘Initial details are troubling’
Wright called his mother, Katie Wright, asking for the car’s insurance information shortly after he was pulled over, she told reporters Sunday. She said police had pulled him over for having an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror, which is illegal in Minnesota.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota said in a statement: “Initial details are troubling. Wright’s mother told several news outlets that she was on the phone with her son when he was pulled over for having a dangling air freshener on his car rearview mirror. …. The ACLU-MN has deep concerns that police here appear to have used dangling air fresheners as an excuse for making a pretextual stop, something police do all too often to target Black people.”

Wright’s family has hired civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump, who is also representing Floyd’s family. Crump said in a statement Monday that the country must mourn the loss of Wright even as people still grapple with the death of Floyd less than a year ago.

“This level of lethal force was entirely preventable and inhumane,” Crump said. “What will it take for law enforcement to stop killing people of color? The growing number of Black men and women who have been killed or harmed by police is far too hefty a price for the equality we are seeking.”

President Joe Biden said in a tweet that he was thinking about Wright’s family and the “pain, anger, and trauma that Black America experiences.”

“While we await a full investigation, we know what we need to do to move forward: rebuild trust and ensure accountability so no one is above the law,” Biden said.

Walz, the governor, said Wright’s death was yet another avoidable death of a Black man at the hands of a Minnesota police officer. He cited the fatal shootings of Philando Castile in 2016 and Jamar Clark in 2015.

A St. Anthony police officer was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter after Castile was gunned down in his car. Clark was fatally shot by a Minneapolis police officer, whose use of force was considered justified in the eyes of the law.

Minnesotans were already on edge as the trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin has drawn so much attention.

The National Guard was mobilized to control a rock-throwing crowd that gathered Sunday in front of the Brooklyn Center Police Department by nightfall. Officers fired rubber bullets and tear gas.

Sunday’s shooting played a role in Chauvin’s case Monday as his attorney asked the judge to sequester jurors, fearing they could be influenced by the killing of another Black man by police.

The request was denied.

The Minnesota Twins, Timberwolves and Wild all postponed their baseball, basketball and hockey games, respectively, in light of the shooting and unrest.