United States

Minnesota prosecutor says cop flouted her training in killing Daunte Wright

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Dec 8 (Reuters) - A prosecutor said on Wednesday a white former Minnesota police officer on trial for killing Black motorist Daunte Wright flouted years of training by mistakenly using her pistol instead of her Taser, while the defense sought to blame the slain man for resisting arrest in a routine traffic stop.

The dueling narratives were presented to jurors during opening statements in the trial of Kimberly Potter, a 26-year veteran of the police force in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center who is charged with manslaughter in the April death of Wright, 20.

"This case is about the defendant Kimberly Potter betraying her badge and betraying her oath and betraying her position of public trust," Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Erin Eldridge told the jury. "Their duty to their badge and to the community is to protect life, not to take life."

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Potter, 49, has pleaded not guilty to first- and second-degree manslaughter charges, which carry maximum sentences of 15 and 10 years respectively. Her lawyers have said Potter thought she was using her Taser when she shot Wright in the chest with her Glock handgun as he tried to flee the scene in his car.

Eldridge spoke at length about the extensive training received by Potter, which included two Taser-specific courses in the six months prior to the incident. Eldridge said Potter "flouted" her training and escalated the traffic stop.

Potter, who resigned from the police department after the incident, and two other officers were attempting to detain Wright on an outstanding warrant for his arrest on a misdemeanor weapons charge. The officers pulled him over because there was an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror and his license plate tabs were expired, then learned of the warrant.

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A general view of fences around Brooklyn Center Police Department covered in protest art and ornaments as opening statements are set to begin in the manslaughter trial of Kimberly Potter, a white former Minnesota police officer charged in the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, a Black man whose April death sparked protests, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. December 8, 2021. REUTERS/Nicole Neri

Eldridge showed the jury video of the incident in which Potter can be heard shouting "Taser, Taser, Taser" before firing into the car as Wright broke free from a second officer and tried to drive away. A third officer, Sergeant Michael Johnson, had entered through the passenger side of the vehicle to assist with the arrest.

Paul Engh, an attorney for Potter, called the shooting an accident and a mistake. Engh said it was Wright who created the volatile situation by trying to flee. Engh said Potter had a duty to stop Wright because Johnson could have lost his life if he had been dragged down the street in the fleeing vehicle.

"All he has to do is stop and he'd be with us," Engh said of Wright. "She can't let him leave because he is going to kill her partner."

Caught on Potter's body-worn camera, the shooting of Wright triggered demonstrations in Brooklyn Center, with critics calling the incident another example of police violence against Black Americans.

The shooting occurred just a few miles north of where Derek Chauvin, a white former Minneapolis police officer, was standing trial at the time in the case of George Floyd, a Black man whose 2020 death during an arrest set off racial justice protests in many U.S. cities. Chauvin was convicted of murder.

The prosecutor wrapped up her remarks by showing jurors a photo of the jacket worn by Wright emblazoned with the phrase "Heart Breaker." Eldridge said that "it the defendant who broke Daunte Wright's heart" when she fired a bullet into his chest.

"He had a new baby boy, a loving family and his whole adult life ahead of him," Eldridge said. "There is no do-over when you take a young man's life."

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Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Will Dunham and Karishma Singh

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