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Ex-officer in shooting of Daunte Wright faces manslaughter charge

Demonstrators assemble outside FBI offices after the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright in Minnesota. (Joshua Lott/The Washington Post)

BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. — The former police officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright has been charged with second-degree manslaughter, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said Wednesday.

Kim Potter resigned Tuesday from the Brooklyn Center Police Department amid outrage over Wright’s death during a traffic stop. The incident was captured on a body-worn camera, and it set off days of protests and other unrest in a region already on edge during the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

Second-degree manslaughter is one of the counts Chauvin was charged with last year after video emerged showing him pinning George Floyd under his knee for about nine minutes. Under Minnesota law, a person convicted of the charge can face up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.

Potter was taken into custody by Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agents at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. She was booked into the Hennepin County Jail just after noon. She posted $100,000 bail and was released from custody shortly after 5:30 p.m., according to sheriff’s records.

When police kill people, they are rarely prosecuted and hard to convict

The action against Potter is relatively unusual; fatal shootings by police rarely result in charges. Officers shoot and kill about 1,000 people a year, according to a Washington Post database. Most of these people are armed.

The vast majority of the shootings are deemed justified, and only a small portion of officers face charges in such cases.

While the shooting took place in Hennepin County, the county attorney there sent the case to Orput’s office in Washington County as part of an agreement to have prosecutors investigate police shootings outside their jurisdictions to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest.

An attorney thought to be representing Potter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Wright’s family members had stated that they wanted Potter to face murder charges. “Prosecute them, like they would prosecute us,” Nyesha Wright, the victim’s aunt, said at a Tuesday news conference. “We want the highest justice.”

Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney who represents the family of Daunte Wright, spoke on April 14 about the second-degree manslaughter charge against Kim Potter. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Getty Images/The Washington Post)

Ben Crump, an attorney for Wright’s family, likened the shooting of the 20-year-old to an “execution” and expressed disbelief that Potter, a 26-year veteran officer, could mistake a gun for a Taser, which is how the city’s police chief has described what appears to have happened.

“While we appreciate that the district attorney is pursuing justice for Daunte, no conviction can give the Wright family their loved one back,” Crump said in a statement Wednesday. “This was no accident. This was an intentional, deliberate and unlawful use of force.”

Minn. police officer who shot Daunte Wright apparently meant to use Taser but fired gun, police chief says

Imran Ali, the Washington County assistant criminal division chief and director of the Major Crime Unit, said in a statement following the charging announcement that no job carries more responsibility — and the need for discretion and accountability — than policing.

“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. Her action caused the unlawful killing of Mr. Wright and she must be held accountable,” he said.

According to the criminal complaint, the April 11 incident began just before 2 p.m. when Brooklyn Center police Officer Anthony Luckey and Potter, his field training officer, pulled Wright over. The complaint did not give the reason for the stop, though police previously said Wright was stopped over expired registration.

A check of Wright’s identification turned up a warrant for a gross misdemeanor weapons charge, and after he was removed from his car and searched, he was told that he was being placed under arrest for the outstanding warrant, according to the criminal complaint.

The complaint says that Wright soon pulled away from the officers to get back into the car, with Luckey trying to keep hold of him. Potter pulled her Glock 9mm handgun and pointed it at Wright, saying repeatedly that she would use a Taser on him. Seven seconds later, Potter shouted “Taser, Taser, Taser!” and fired the gun.

Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott has called on Gov. Tim Walz (D) to direct the prosecution of Potter to the Minnesota attorney general’s office. Walz’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Elliott pleaded for calm in the community on Wednesday evening, saying it had been a tragic week for the people of Brooklyn Center.

“My message for all who are demanding justice for Wright and his family is this: Your voices have been heard. Now the eyes of the world are watching Brooklyn Center and I urge you to protest peacefully and without violence.”

After three consecutive nights of protesters clashing with police following Wright’s death, Elliott was asked in a press briefing Wednesday about the tear gas used on demonstrators and reports that media were told to leave as arrests were made. Elliott repeatedly asserted that it was the sheriff’s office that was in charge of that operation. Brooklyn Center city council passed a resolution Monday banning crowd control tactics, including the use of rubber bullets and tear gas, and Elliott said the council “conveyed those sentiments” to the sheriff’s office.

“We have to approach policing in a different way, in a more humane way,” he said, asserting that the department did not deploy tear gas. “Gassing, in my opinion, is not a humane way of policing.”

Officer who shot Daunte Wright resigns, as does Brooklyn Center police chief

Religious leaders from a Brooklyn Center ministerial group gathered to pray outside the police station Wednesday afternoon.

Pastor Ezra Fagge’Tt and his wife, Patricia Fagge’Tt, witnessed the shooting, but they did not know until later that it was fatal. They minister at Unity Temple, which is across the street from where the traffic stop occurred.

“We can’t put it into words — it’s one of those dissonant things,” the pastor said of his emotions. “When you are out to help humanity, teaching the word for souls to get a better lease on life, and see this happen again.”

The charging announcement brought little solace to him. He kept asking, “Why?”

“Why, when you stop people of color, [do] you automatically draw a weapon?” he said in an interview outside the police station. “I wish everybody loved God enough to love everyone. We are not asking for special treatment. We are asking for everyone to be treated alike.”

His wife said she saw Potter fall after the shooting.

“She fell to the ground with emotion,” she said. “My heart goes out to her. She made a mistake but it could have been avoided.”

Next door to the Brooklyn Center police station, the Kenyan Community Seventh-day Adventist Church has become a mutual aid location, distributing masks, food, clothing and other supplies to neighbors.

“It has been tough for the community,” said Pastor Simon Momanyi. “We are here. We have to be the center for healing.”

Momanyi said the church hasn’t had much contact with protest organizers, but he wants people to know that they can come to the church.

“We pray that this comes to an end and peace comes to the community,” he said.

Savo Santana told The Post that as a Black man, he was moved to drive from Rochester, N.Y., on Tuesday to protest the deaths of Daunte Wright and George Floyd.

“I struggle every day,” he said. “I just want to change. We are all tired.” Santana said he was dissatisfied with the charging decision in the Wright shooting and thinks it should be for first-degree murder.

Before Daunte Wright’s death, a gun-Taser mix-up was blamed for another police killing: Oscar Grant at Fruitvale Station

The intense scrutiny and attendant criticism are inevitable in high-profile and emotional cases such as those involving Floyd and Wright, but prosecutors are ethically bound to only charge what they can prove, said Lori Swanson, the former Minnesota attorney general.

“At the end of the day, the prosecutor needs to pick crimes to charge that they think he can win at trial,” she said. “If you pick charges that don’t fit the facts of the case, the danger down the road is that you won’t be able to prove the elements of the case.”

It’s not uncommon for prosecutors to add or drop charges as a case develops and new information becomes available, Swanson said. If the case is moved to the attorney general, that office is not bound by the county attorney’s charging decisions and can pursue whatever it thinks will prevail in a trial.

“It’s important for prosecutors to steel … themselves and not be swayed by public criticism,” Swanson said. “You have to focus like a laser beam on what you think is right in the case — and have a backbone of steel.”

Bellware reported from Chicago and Berman from Washington.

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