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Expert: Kimberly Potter not justified in using deadly force against Daunte Wright

15December 2021

A longtime national expert in policing testified Wednesday in former Brooklyn Center officer Kimberly Potter’s manslaughter trial that she was not justified in using deadly force when she shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in April.

The day’s proceedings ended with Daunte Wright’s father, Arbuey Wright, taking the stand and expressing how much he has missed his son for the past eight months, at times fighting his emotions to get the words out while answering questions from prosecutor Erin Eldridge.

During the “spark-of-life” testimony, when loved ones speak about a crime victim in sympathetic terms, Wright smiled as he recalled being Daunte’s boss at the shoe store where they both worked for about year until the start of the pandemic interrupted the arrangement.

“It was a great challenge to work with my son,” Arbuey Wright said, recalling how he had to send Daunte home from the store because he was on his phone. “I tried to let him understand that at work I was his boss, and home I’m your dad.”

Shown a photo of him with his son shortly before the shooting, Arbuey Wright said, “We had a close relationship. He was me and my wife’s first child.”

Then came a photo of Daunte holding his year-old son, Daunte Jr.

“To see him as a father, it was like I was so happy for him because he was so happy,” the elder Wright said. “It was my chance to be a grandfather.”

Also Wednesday, the prosecution said that it intended to rest its case Thursday, clearing the way for Potter’s defense to present evidence and testimony about why its client is not guilty.

The police expert, University of South Carolina School of Law Prof. Seth Stoughton did agree with Potter’s defense on one of its key points when he said, “I think the evidence that I reviewed is that she intended to use the Taser instead of a firearm.”

Then when asked by prosecutor Matthew Frank whether it was reasonable for Potter to shoot Wright with her handgun, Stoughton replied, “The use of deadly force was not appropriate [but] excessive and inappropriate.”

Stoughton also commented on whether there was a threat to the well-being of Police Sgt. Mychal Johnson when he was partly in the car with his hand in command of the gear shift and possibly subjected to being dragged should it start moving.

This circumstance during the traffic stop has been a key point for the defense saying that Potter was justified in using deadly force against Wright. But Stoughton disagreed, testifying that once Johnson exited the vehicle after hearing Potter yell “Taser!” three times, “there is no longer a threat of death or imminent harm” should the car take off.

“In your opinion, if a reasonable officer in Officer Potter’s position was aware that the warnings about the Taser had caused Sgt. Johnson to back out of the vehicle, would it have been reasonable and proportional to use deadly force?” Frank asked.

“No, because there’s no threat of bodily harm, no threat of being dragged by the vehicle once he’s out of the vehicle,” Stoughton said.

After a few objections by the defense, Judge Regina Chu warned the prosecution that Stoughton cannot testify as to what Potter knew at the moment of the shooting.

“He can’t say she wouldn’t have been aware that (Johnson) was in danger because he doesn’t’ have any foundation for that,” Chu said outside the presence of the jury. “What he can testify to is (what) a reasonable officer in Officer Potter’s position would have done.”

Stoughton also drew much the same conclusions about whether Potter was justified in deciding to use her Taser during the effort to arrest Wright.

Use of a Taser “is inappropriate under those circumstances,” he said. “It’s really dangerous to incapacitate the way that a Taser can incapacitate someone who is in a position to get a vehicle moving, You can create an unguided hazard.” Even if someone isn’t incapacitated, with the pain from the Taser, “You can provide incentive to flee.”

Stoughton added that rather than use a Taser on Wright in this situation, the police could have let him go because he was “unlikely to avoid future apprehension,” given they knew his name and had other identifying information.

After the prosecution finished questioning Stoughton, the defense moved to introduce prior incidents of Wright fleeing police in order to rebut Stoughton’s testimony that the officers should have allowed Wright to flee, and then arrest him later.

“I will make an offer of proof of every time this kid has run away and not been found,” defense attorney Paul Engh said, pounding on the lectern, calling Stoughton’s testimony false and saying he would move for a mistrial if the evidence weren’t allowed.

Responding to Engh, Frank said, “I won’t pound on the table, because I don’t think I need to.”

The prosecutor continued, “There has been no false impression given to the jury, because the witness’ entire testimony was couched in what a reasonable officer would have done based on what that officer knew at the time.”

After a brief break, Chu ruled against allowing the evidence, saying it would only be admissible if if came out during the trial that Potter was aware of Wright’s prior attempts to flee.

Under a sometimes contentious cross-examination by defense attorney Earl Gray, Stoughton said he “concluded” that Johnson was out of the car when Potter fired her gun. He then clarified that the sergeant’s “hands were still in contact with the passenger and Mr. Wright’s right hand [that was] in front of the passenger.”

The line of questioning prompted a warning from Chu to Gray to allow Stoughton to answer the question before speaking over him.

Stoughton, a published author on issues surrounding police use of force, also testified in April during the Derek Chauvin murder trial and said that a handcuffed, non-aggressive Floyd did not constitute a threat to Chauvin, and his level of force was disproportionate during the arrest. Chauvin was convicted and imprisoned.

Earlier in the sixth day of the manslaughter case against the 49-year-old Potter in Hennepin County District Court, a trainer for the Brooklyn Center Police Department said that he’s heard of instances when someone meant to grab their Taser and drew their firearm instead.

Central to the first- and second-degree manslaughter case against Potter in the shooting of Wright is that despite her training she mistakenly grabbed her handgun from her right hip instead of her Taser from her left and shot the 20-year-old Wright on April 11 as he resisted arrest during a traffic stop. Potter yelled “Taser” multiple times at Wright before firing.

During an afternoon break, Wright’s mother, Katie Bryant, and Potter passed each other in the hall, according to a pool reporter inside the courthouse. Potter tightly linked her arm with her husband, while Bryant stepped as close as possible to the wall for space. The two were a little more than an arm’s reach apart.

Sgt. Michael Peterson, who trains Brooklyn Center police officers about Taser use and other matters, agreed under defense questioning that a Taser can be employed for many of the circumstances that Potter faced when helping with the attempt to arrest Wright.

If someone is trying to get back in a car, “that person can be tased?” defense attorney Paul Engh said. Peterson said yes. The sergeant gave the same answer for when someone is being violent and resisting arrest.

Peterson on Wednesday, in answers to defense questions, also acknowledged that the Taser manufacturer warns its buyers that the device can be confused with a handgun.

“Otherwise, why warn you?” Engh said. “Mistakes can happen?” Peterson said yes.

“There have been confusions?” Engh said. Peterson said there have been “several” that he’s been aware of occurring.

Prosecutor Matthew Frank countered by asking Peterson how many of those incidents, and the sergeant said he did not know and has never pulled his gun when meaning to grab his Taser. On Tuesday, Peterson said he cannot remember any other officer firing a handgun when meaning to deploy a Taser, either on duty or during a role-playing scenario.

The prosecution Tuesday was Brooklyn Center Police Cmdr. Garett Flesland. He has known Potter for two decades and supervised her in recent years.

“She’s a good cop. A good person. A friend,” Flesland said under defense questioning. “I had no concerns going on calls with her,”

Defense attorney Earl Gray asked whether Potter, a 26-year veteran, was ever accused by a citizen of abuse of power or force. Flesland responded, “Not that I’m aware of, sir.”

Gray raised the details of the Wright traffic stop and what Potter and her partner, officer Anthony Luckey, knew about him as they approached his car with Sgt. Mychal Johnson.

“No license, no insurance, no real identification,” Gray said of Wright. “Would they be in the right to stop that person from fleeing?”

Flesland responded, “Based on the way you laid it out, yes.”

Flesland acknowledged, however, that he was responding to Gray’s question and had not investigated the stop himself. Gray asked whether Wright’s arrest warrant for possession of an illegal weapon would have been of concern to him at a traffic stop.

“I would be extremely concerned if I was going to arrest someone that had an arrest warrant for some sort of weapons violation,” Flesland responded.

Gray pressed Flesland about Wright resisting arrest and getting back behind the wheel while Johnson reached into the car to try to stop him from driving off.

“You have the right to use deadly force to save … that police officer that’s laying over the seat, correct?” Gray asked.

“Potentially, yes,” Flesland said, “but I wasn’t there.”

Gray described Johnson as potentially being injured should the driver try to flee.

“It could likely happen, yes,” Flesland said. “I think it would be severe and significant, yes.”

Johnson, who was Potter’s supervisor at the scene, also backed Potter’s use of deadly force during his testimony Friday.

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