'I'm so sorry': Ex-cop Kim Potter describes 'chaotic' moment she shot Daunte Wright
MINNEAPOLIS — Former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter choked up on the witness stand and buried her face in her hands Friday as she recounted the moment she fatally shot Daunte Wright while yelling "Taser" in a traffic-stop-turned-arrest earlier this year.
"We were struggling. We were trying to keep him from driving away. It just went chaotic," Potter, dressed in a patterned shirt and yellow sweater, testified through tears as her husband, brother and mother sat in the courtroom. "And then, I remember yelling 'Taser, Taser, Taser' and nothing happened. And then (Wright) told me I shot him."
Potter said she remembers seeing Wright struggling with another officer over the car's gear-shift moments before she shot Wright. The officer had "a look of fear on his face" like "nothing I’ve seen before," Potter said.
Potter told jurors she remembers little about what happened after the April shooting in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center. "They had an ambulance for me and I don’t know why. And then I was at the station. I don’t remember a lot of things afterward," she said.
On cross examination, Potter cried and buried her face in her hands again. "I'm sorry, so sorry," she said, her voice cracking. She added: "I didn’t want to hurt anybody."
As Potter spoke, Wright’s parents, who testified in the case, sat in the courtroom, holding hands.
The defense rested its case after Potter stepped off the stand. Hennepin County District Court Judge Regina Chu dismissed jurors until Monday, when attorneys for the defense and prosecution are expected to give closing arguments.
Potter, 49, is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter in Wright's death. The 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center Police Department quit two days after the shooting, along with the police chief. She was arrested the next day.
Prosecutors say Potter was "reckless" and consciously took the risk of causing harm to Wright and others, despite years of training on Tasers and firearms. Prosecutors also say Potter abused her position of authority and caused a "greater than normal danger" to the safety of Wright's passenger, other officers and civilians on the street – aggravating factors prosecutors say warrant a tougher sentence.
Defense attorneys say Potter made an "innocent mistake." They also say Potter would have been justified in using a firearm because she was attempting to prevent Wright from injuring another officer as Wright fled the arrest, which is a felony. After Wright was shot, he crashed his car into an oncoming vehicle down the street, injuring his girlfriend in the passenger seat and two people in the other car.
The manslaughter charges do not require prosecutors to prove that Potter intended to kill Wright.
Potter testified that, prior to the day she shot Wright, she never deployed her Taser or firearm while on duty but that she drew her Taser "maybe a few times." She testified she received annual training on Tasers and was informed about the dangers of weapons confusion, though she said it was not "expounded on" in training.
Potter said she was overseeing a trainee officer when he decided to pull Wright's vehicle over and she "most likely" would not have pulled the car over herself.
When the officers discovered Wright had a warrant for arrest on a weapons violation and an order for protection against him, Potter said she became concerned there could be a weapon in the vehicle. Potter testified she was compelled by law to arrest Wright and to find out if the woman in the passenger seat had the order of protection.
Potter initially testified she did not recall if Wright's vehicle was running during the arrest. She later testified that she previously stated the car had been running. Potter also testified she never communicated what had happened to officers who responded to the scene of the car crash.
"I was very distraught. I’d just shot somebody. I’d never done that," Potter said, crying.
Police bodycam videos capturing the seconds after the shooting reveal Potter shouted several expletives and said she "grabbed the wrong" gun. "I shot him," she said. She added: "I’m going to go to prison" and "I killed a boy." Asked about the comments on the witness stand, Potter testified she does not recall making the statements.
'I TRIED TO SCREAM HIS NAME':Girlfriend recalls moment Kim Potter shot Daunte Wright
Witness testimony and evidence presented by the state revealed multiple officers who responded to the scene of the crash were responding to a "shots fired" call and were unaware Wright had been shot. One officer held Wright’s vehicle at gunpoint for nearly nine minutes before officers dragged Wright’s body out of the vehicle.
Potter told jurors she quit after the shooting because she "didn’t want anything bad to happen to the city." She said she and her husband moved out of state and that she has been been in therapy since the shooting.
Before Potter took the stand Friday, jurors heard from a psychologist for the defense, who said longtime surgeons, pilots and other professionals can still make "action errors" in high-stress situations.
"In plain language, you intend to do one thing, think you're doing that thing, but do something else and only realize later that the action you intended was not the one you took," Laurence Miller said as he looked toward jurors. Miller said weapons confusion – particularly confusing a firearm for a Taser – is a form of action error.
Several other defense witnesses testified Thursday. Expert witness Stephen Ijames, a former Missouri police officer, said Potter's use of a Taser would have been consistent with police training and that the use of deadly force would have been justified if Potter believed another officer was inside the vehicle and at risk of being dragged.
Asked if the officer in question, based on his review of the evidence, was outside the vehicle at the time Potter fired her weapon, Ijames said the officer was "probably more out than in."
Timothy Gannon, the former police chief, testified he was once dragged by a vehicle and felt "sheer terror." He said he resigned the same day as Potter because he would not immediately fire her, as he saw no violations of "policy, procedure or law" when he watched Potter's body camera video.
Jurors also heard from several character witnesses who testified Potter had a reputation for being law-abiding and peaceful in the community and among law enforcement.
Testimony for the defense came after the state rested its case Thursday morning. Over the course of six days, jurors saw dozens of bodycam and dashcam videos and heard from eye witnesses, local and state law enforcement officers, medical examiners, and an expert on the use of force. Wright's mother, father and girlfriend all testified.
Jurors took notes as witnesses held up Tasers in the courtroom and, prompted by prosecutors, demonstrated the differences between a Taser and a firearm. The panel also sat through hours of testimony on Brooklyn Center Police Department policy and Taser training and use guidelines, including on the dangers of firing a weapon into a moving vehicle.
The first-degree charge carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and/or a $30,000 fine, and the second-degree charge has a maximum sentence of 10 years and/or a $20,000 fine. The judge will rule on the aggravating factors.
Twelve jurors and two alternates are hearing evidence in the case, which is being livestreamed.
Wright's death happened in the midst of the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, later convicted of murdering George Floyd. The shooting amplified local tensions and fueled a nationwide movement against police brutality and the treatment of Black people in the U.S. Potter is white, while Wright was Black.
Contributing: N'dea Yancey-Bragg, USA TODAY