The shooting further roiled a community already on edge as it awaits a verdict in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd. Chauvin’s trial is expected to wrap this week, with closing arguments expected next Monday, the judge in the case said.
The officer was identified Monday evening as Officer Kim Potter, who has been with the department for 26 years. She remains on administrative leave, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension announced.
The city faces a second night of protests even after the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul each announced curfews.
At 6 p.m. local time, an hour before curfew, hundreds of people joined Wright’s family for a vigil held at the site where he was killed.
The crowd remained silent as a trumpeter played “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — often referred to as the “Black national anthem” — and then a minister introduced Wright’s mother, Katie Wright.
“My heart is literally broken into a thousand pieces and I don’t know what to do or what to say. But I just need everybody to know that he is much more than this,” she said, holding back tears.
“I just need everyone to know that he was my life, he was my son and I can never get that back," she added.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) expressed his sympathies to Wright’s family during an afternoon news conference and said it was important to acknowledge “we don’t have to continue having these press conferences, and having what may be a routine traffic stop and a 20-year-old dead, a family devastated and a community on edge.”
He pledged to demand the state legislature hold hearings on police reforms he said have passed in other states with the support of both law enforcement and community groups.
The inquiry will center around the police response when officers pulled Wright over for a traffic violation.
The roughly one-minute video clip played by the police chief at a tense news conference starts with two male officers approaching Wright’s car — one on either side. After a brief conversation, the officer on the driver’s side takes Wright out of the car and begins to handcuff him. Wright begins to struggle and a third officer, a woman, approaches from behind to assist. As Wright struggles, the third officer is heard threatening to use a Taser on Wright.
In the chaotic seven seconds that follow, the female officer, who already has a weapon drawn, is heard yelling, “I’ll Tase you!” and then “Taser! Taser! Taser!” before firing.
Immediately after she is heard saying, “Holy s---, I shot him,” apparently realizing that she had fired her service weapon instead of her Taser.
Gannon described it as an “accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Wright.”
Gannon declined to identify the officer but described her as a veteran of the department and said she was immediately placed on leave pending the outcome of an investigation into the shooting. His refusal to answer additional questions about the officer angered the some in the audience during the tense city hall briefing.
“Why is it that police officers in the United States keep killing young Black men and young Black women at a far, far, far higher rate than they do White people?” one of the attendees asked.
“I don’t have an answer to that question,” Gannon replied.
City officials openly shared their opposing views during the news conference, with Brooklyn Center Mayor Elliott saying the officer should be fired. Gannon and City Manager Curt Boganey said they wanted to hear from the officer herself and give her due process.
The political sparring continued with the city council voting later Monday to give the mayor command authority over the police department. The city manager was fired.
Meanwhile, the office of Washington County Attorney Pete Orput will determine whether to bring charges against the unnamed officer. Orput told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that he expects his office to do a “thorough yet expedited” review of the case criminal complaint drafted no later than Wednesday morning.
“I’m hoping Wednesday, but I want to have the opportunity to give my condolences to his family and explain to them my decision,” Orput told the Star Tribune.
Two miles away from where officials were briefing the media, several dozen people gathered in the rain outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department as officers and Minnesota National Guard troops stood watch.
Chioma Nnadi, a 42-year-old business owner said she had been following previous police shootings on TV, but this one was different because it was her own city.
“This could be my son. This could be my brother,” she said. “How would you feel if Daunte was your own brother, your own husband, your own son?
Wright is at least the 262nd person shot and killed by police so far this year, according to a Washington Post database that tracks such shootings. The swift cascade of reactions to his death indicate how accustomed the United States — and the Twin Cities area in particular — have grown to responding to such incidents.
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations whose group works on civil rights issues in the area beyond the Muslim community, said a familiar pattern is playing out once again in the area.
“Nothing has fundamentally changed since the killing of George Floyd. Nothing,” Hussein said. “Police officers can still do whatever they’ve been doing without any measure of accountability.”
Wright is the latest person in the United States to be shot by a police officer who said they inadvertently drew a firearm when they meant to use a Taser, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. A police officer in Lawrence, Kan., said she mistakenly used her gun rather than a Taser in a 2018 shooting. In 2019, an officer in New Hope, Penn., reported the same. In one of the most widely known cases, a former reserve deputy in Tulsa County shot and killed Eric Harris, an unarmed Black man, in 2015. The deputy, Robert Bates, said he pulled his gun while intending to use his Taser. Video footage captured a gunshot and Bates saying, “I shot him. I’m sorry.” Bates was convicted of second-degree manslaughter.
Wright was stopped just before 2 p.m. Sunday for having expired registration tags, the chief said. At Monday’s news conference, an angry audience member noted that the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles was experiencing a two- to three-month backlog due to the coronavirus pandemic. The chief said that after running Wright’s identification, an officer discovered he had an outstanding warrant for a misdemeanor and police tried to arrest him.
Wright’s family said he had spoken to them by phone just moments before he was shot.
Aubrey Wright, 42, said his son had recently asked his mother for $50 for a carwash and was headed there when he was stopped. They had recently bought him the car, his father told The Post. Wright’s family said he told them he had been pulled over for having an air freshener dangling from his mirror, allegedly blocking his view.
Daunte Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, told the Star-Tribune that her son had called her after being pulled over and that she heard a commotion and then someone yelling, “Daunte, don’t run” before the line disconnected. Moments later, she said, her son’s girlfriend, who was in the car, called back and said he’d been shot.
Aubrey Wright, who was at a grocery store, said his wife called him around 2 p.m. with the news. “She was screaming over the phone. She was saying, ‘Daunte was shot!’ ” he said.
When Aubrey Wright arrived at the scene less than 10 minutes later, he said, he saw his son’s 2011 Buick LaCrosse partially destroyed and his son’s body covered with a white sheet on the sidewalk.
“I know my son. He was scared. He still [had] the mind of a 17-year-old because we babied him,” Wright said Sunday, before details of the alleged accidental shooting were made public. “If he was resisting an arrest, you could Tase him. I don’t understand it.”
Daunte Wright, who had a two-year-old son, dropped out of high school about two years ago because of a learning disability, his father said. Since then, he worked in retail and fast-food restaurants to support his son. He planned to go back to school to get his GED.
“He was a great kid,” Aubrey Wright said. “He was a normal kid. He was never in serious trouble. He enjoyed spending time with his two-year-old son. He loved his son.”
After news of the shooting circulated through the community Sunday, several young residents went to the Brooklyn Center Police Department to gather in protest, Hussein of CAIR-MN said.
“We tried to keep folks safe. It was peaceful. They were standing in the street and kind of protesting, and all of a sudden we saw about eight vans come in with what looked like riot gear police,” Hussein said.
As protesters lingered on the scene, police gave orders to disperse and fired flash bangs and tear gas. The Minnesota National Guard, which is deployed to the Twin Cities for the Chauvin trial, later arrived to assist police as numerous businesses in the area were broken into.
Brooklyn Center police said they arrested two people after Sunday’s demonstrations while Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said his officers made between 25 and 30 arrests.
Walz and other city officials around the Twin Cities looked to balance validating the community’s grief and anger with cautioning against destruction and violence. Parts of the Twin Cities are boarded up and fortified already due to the ongoing Chauvin trial.
St Paul Mayor Melvin Carter during the joint news conference with Walz called for accountability for the officer who killed Wright but urged people not to “exploit the death of Daunte Wright” as an excuse for destruction.
“You cannot honor the memory of George Floyd, you cannot honor the memory of Daunte Wright by wreaking havoc in the neighborhoods they call home,” Carter said.
Jared Goyette, Mark Berman, Robert Samuels and Reis Thebault contributed to this report.