Excruciating, emotional footage permeated the first day of testimony Wednesday in the manslaughter trial of former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Wright in the shooting death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright after a traffic stop April 11.
Videos from police body-worn and squad car cameras captured the shocked and plaintive reactions of Wright’s mother, Katie Bryant, and Potter moments and minutes after the shooting.
Bryant was a mother grieving and pleading to reach her son’s body — identifiable to her by his tennis shoes protruding from under a white sheet in the street; Potter was a 26-year veteran officer in disbelief that she had fired her gun instead of her Taser, exclaiming, “I killed a boy,” collapsing face-down and inconsolable in the roadside grass.
The trial began last week with the seating of a 14-person jury, but opening statements were delivered Wednesday. Bryant was the first witness to take the stand. She was followed by Brooklyn Center officer Anthony Luckey, who was being trained by Potter and made the decision to follow Wright after seeing him using a right-turn signal while in the left-turn lane.
Bryant, who has also identified herself by the last name Wright, began her testimony by recounting that her son was one of seven children in a blended family. He worked in retail and fast food, and was enrolled in a trade school, possibly to learn carpentry. She described her son as “a jokester. He liked to make everybody laugh. He had a smile that would light up the room.”
With Bryant on the stand, prosecutors showed a photo of Wright holding his son, Daunte Jr., in July 2020 on the baby’s first birthday. On the day he died, Bryant testified, her son came to her and asked for $50 for gas and a car wash. He then kissed his sleeping toddler and left.
Within minutes, his mother testified, Wright called her through Facebook messenger about being stopped for expired tabs on the vehicle and an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror. Wright, who didn’t have a driver’s license, asked his mother about insurance on the car.
She was disconnected. When called back over Facetime, a young woman told her Wright had been shot “and she faced the phone toward the driver’s seat and my son was laying there, he was unresponsive and he looked dead.”
Bryant drove to the scene. Police body camera video played in court showed her running up to police, yelling, crying and saying, “You shot him, why? Because he had a … warrant? Are you serious?”
Under brief cross-examination by defense attorney Earl Gray, Bryant said she knew Wright had no car insurance and no driver’s license. He questioned Bryant about showing up with three lawyers to give police a statement four days after the death. She acknowledged that she was considering filing a civil lawsuit.
During Luckey’s testimony, prosecutor Matthew Frank played extensive police video recorded before, during and after the traffiic stop. Luckey also testified about his decision to stop and arrest Wright, noting that a records search found a warrant for Wright on a gross misdemeanor gun charge, as well as a protection order filed against him by a woman.
Luckey told how Wright resisted and “jerked his arm back” as he tried to put handcuffs on him. Luckey can be heard on the video saying, “You’re tensing up, bro, don’t do it.”
As Luckey tried to handcuff him and Potter grabbed his right arm, Wright managed to get back into the vehicle and grip the steering wheel. A third officer, Sgt. Mychal Johnson was on the other side of the vehicle, possibly reaching for the wheel.
Luckey said Wright was obviously trying to drive away when he heard Potter on his left say, “I’m gonna Tase you” and “Taser. Taser. Taser.”
When she fired, Luckey said, he knew immediately she had fired her Glock handgun, not the Taser. The video showed Potter knew, too, as the Buick rolls away from the officers with Wright and his female passenger inside. Potter swears and says, “I just shot him.”
She begins crying inconsolably, wailing, “Oh my God” repeatedly, and collapsing onto the grass near the curb, saying she’s “going to prison.” Luckey and Johnson pat her back, and tell her to “just breathe.”
In court, Potter sat between her lawyers, Gray and Paul Engh, who said she will take the stand in her own defense.
Under cross-examination from Engh, Luckey said the unlicensed Wright should not have been driving. Along with marijuana residue on the console and the odor of the drug coming from the car, Engh said, “You had a number of concerns about him?” Luckey replied, “Yes.”
Upon learning of the warrant, Engh said, “You couldn’t let him go?” Luckey replied, “No.”
The day began with opening statements from both sides with prosecutor Erin Eldridge saying Potter shot Wright because she ignored years of firearm training.
“This case is about the defendant Kimberly Potter betraying her badge, betraying her oath and betraying the position of public trust,” she said.
The fact that Potter didn’t mean to kill Wright is irrelevant, the prosecutor said.
“It’s not about intent to kill. That’s not why you’re here today,” Eldridge said. “No one will say that [Potter] wanted this to happen, and no one is even saying that she meant to shoot him with her gun. But the evidence will show that’s what she did: She fired her gun at point-blank range into Daunte Wright’s chest.”
Eldridge finished her hourlong opening with an image of the blood-soaked “Heartbreaker” branded jean jacket Wright was wearing that day. “Daunte Wright was not the heartbreaker; it was Daunte Wright who had his heart broken, and it was the defendant who broke Daunte Wright’s heart when she fired a hollow-point bullet straight into his chest,” she said.
The prosecutor detailed various points the state will revisit in coming days, showing that the Taser is bright yellow while the Glock is black.
In his opening statement, Engh talked about Potter as a wife whose husband was in the courtroom and a mother of two sons — one a Marine and the other a Division I college hockey player in North Dakota.
“She made a mistake,” Engh said of Potter. “This was an accident. She’s a human being. … She believed that she possessed a Taser. That’s why she said, ‘Taser! Taser! Taser!’ She didn’t say, ‘Gun! Gun! Gun!'”
With Johnson reaching inside the vehicle, struggling with Wright, that officer could have been dragged or killed if Wright had been allowed to drive off, Engh said.
“He didn’t follow police orders,” Engh said of Wright. “He had marijuana and the odor of marijuana in his car. … His own negligence contributed to the tragedy here.”
Engh ended his 30-minute opening, saying “Ms. Potter’s good name has been besmirched by this allegation which is not true, and by press coverage which has been slanted, and we seek to reclaim it. And reclaim it we will.”
The trial resumes at 9 a.m. Thursday.