Kimberly Potter, the former suburban Minneapolis police officer charged with manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop, sobbed on the witness stand Friday (Dec. 17), testifying that she didn’t intend to use deadly force against Wright.
In the cross-examination, Potter told the prosecutor that she mistook her gun for a Taser when she fired at the 20-year-old Black man, the Associated Press reported.
Potter, who is white and was a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center, Minn., police force, was charged with first-degree and second-degree manslaughter.
The traffic stop “just went chaotic” after Wright tried to get back into his car and leave, she testified.
After giving her testimony, the defense rested its case. The jury was expected to get instructions and start deliberations on Monday.
On April 11, Potter and other officers pulled Wright over for expired license plate tags, but discovered he had outstanding warrants for his arrest. Footage of the traffic stop shows Wright initially outside of his vehicle. When the police realized he had a warrant for a misdemeanor weapons charge, he jumped back into his car apparently attempting to drive away.
She yelled, "Taser! Taser! Taser!" but drew her handgun instead of the Taser and fired a single shot. He drove away, only a few hundred feet, where his car was found crashed into another vehicle.
According to CNN, Potter broke down crying on the stand Friday when she described the “look of fear” on the face of another officer whose arm was inside the car when Wright tried to drive away. "It's nothing I've seen before," she said, explaining that she feared he might be dragged away.
"We are struggling. We're trying to keep him from driving away. It just went chaotic. I remember yelling -- 'Taser, Taser, Taser' -- and nothing happened. And then he told me I shot him," she continued, covering her face with her hands.
According to The New York Times, the two counts are separate and not mutually exclusive, meaning she can be convicted or acquitted of either charge or of both. If convicted she faces up to 15 years in prison on the first-degree manslaughter charge and up to 10 years for the second-degree manslaughter charge.
To win a conviction, prosecutors must prove that Potter acted with recklessness or culpable negligence, according to the AP. They have argued that Potter was an experienced officer with extensive training in Taser use and the use of deadly force.
Prosecutors on Wednesday (Dec. 15) presented a police expert Seth Stoughton, a University of South Carolina School of Law professor testifying for the prosecution, who agreed with the defense that Potter intended to use her Taser instead of a gun. But he also agreed with the prosecutor that “the use of deadly force was not appropriate [but] excessive and inappropriate.”
Stoughton also testified that using a Taser was “inappropriate under those circumstances,” adding that “it’s really dangerous to incapacitate” a driver.
On Thursday (Dec. 16), Tim Gannon, the police chief at the time of the shooting defended Potter’s actions. Testifying for the defense, he stated that she was justified in deciding to use her Taser, as well as the right to use deadly force, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.
Gannon has long maintained that view. When pressured to fire Potter in the days after the shooting, Gannon decided to step down from his police chief position instead of firing her.
"When I viewed both camera angles and had the data in front of me, I saw no violation," Gannon testified, referring to “policy, procedure or law.”
During cross-examination, Gannon admitted that he and Potter were friends but denied that their relationship influenced his testimony.
Before Gannon testified, the defense team called a policing expert who also stated that Potter was justified in deciding to use her Taser. Stephen Ijames, a consultant to federal and state law enforcement agencies, also said it was reasonable for Potter to use deadly force against Wright even though she did not intend to fire her gun.