Former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter sobbed on the witness stand Friday as she recalled the “chaotic” events that led to her fatal shooting of Daunte Wright earlier this year, and she later apologized for her actions when pressed by a prosecutor about her failure to render Wright aid.
Her defense rested its case just before 2 p.m. after about two hours of testimony from Potter. A psychologist who explained how officers can make mistakes based on their dominant training and memory took the witness stand earlier in the day. Potter’s attorneys have argued that she meant to use her Taser when she fired her handgun at Wright after he resisted arrest during an April 11 traffic stop.
“We were struggling,” an increasingly emotional Potter said under questioning from one of her attorneys about what preceded the shooting as Wright slipped back into the driver’s seat. “We were trying to keep him from driving away.
“It just went chaotic … And then I remember yelling ‘Taser! Taser! Taser!’ and nothing happened, and then [Wright] told me I shot him,” she said sobbing and covering her face.
Potter said she remembered little about what followed. The struggle, shooting and aftermath were captured on multiple police body-worn cameras. Potter broke down again under cross-examination by Assistant Attorney General Erin Eldridge, and for the first time issued an apology for her actions.
Eldridge peppered Potter with questions about why she didn’t render aid to Wright after his car sped down the street, striking another vehicle, and why she didn’t radio officers who arrived as back-up that she had shot Wright.
“You stopped doing your job completely?” Eldridge asked. “You didn’t communicate what happened over the radio, right?”
“No,” Potter said.
“You didn’t make sure any officers knew what you had just done, right?” Eldridge asked.
“You didn’t run down the street and try to save Daunte Wright’s life, did you?”
“No,” Potter said through tears.
“You didn’t check on the other car that had been hit, did you?”
“That all happened just down the road from you, didn’t it?”
“You were focused on what you had done, because you had just killed somebody?”
“I’m sorry it happened,” Potter sobbed. “I’m so sorry.”
“You knew that deadly force was unreasonable and unwarranted under the circumstances?” Eldridge asked a short time later.
“I didn’t want to hurt anybody,” Potter said.
Wright’s mother, Katie Bryant, was also in tears as she watched the exchange in the courtroom, according to a pool reporter. Jurors, who wore face masks due to COVID-19 protocols, showed little obvious reaction; some took notes on the testimony.
Police had stopped Wright, 20, for expired tags and a dangling air freshener and attempted to arrest him after they discovered an arrest warrant for carrying a gun without a permit. Wright broke free of an officer, Anthony Luckey, attempting to handcuff him and jumped back into his car. Sgt. Mychal Johnson was standing outside the front passenger door and had reached into the vehicle to prevent Wright from shifting it into drive. Wright’s car sped forward into another vehicle after Potter shot him once in the chest.
Under questioning by one of her attorneys, Earl Gray, Potter, 49, said she had wanted to become an officer since elementary school and that she had never received a use-of-force complaint in her 26-year career. Gray attempted to humanize Potter by asking about her husband, a retired officer, their two sons, and Potter’s siblings and parents. Her husband, mother and a brother attended her testimony.
Potter testified that she was acting as Luckey’s field training officer on April 11 as he worked through the probationary stage of his hiring with Brooklyn Center police. Luckey initiated the stop, said Potter, adding that she “most likely” would not have done the same because the air freshener was a minor equipment violation and COVID-19 had delayed the issuance of license plate tabs.
Potter testified, though, that they had a duty to arrest Wright because of the warrant and to check on a young woman in his front passenger seat after learning that a woman had filed a temporary restraining order filed against him.
“It’s my duty to find out who she is to make sure she’s not in harm’s way,” Potter said of the passenger. “There’s been times when that hasn’t happened and somebody’s ended up killed.”
Potter said that as Wright attempted to flee she saw Johnson’s face and saw him struggle with Wright over control of the car’s gear shift.
“He had a look of fear on his face,” Potter said in a strained voice. “It’s nothing I’ve seen before.”
Potter testified that she shot Wright soon afterwards. Potter’s defense has argued that she had the legal authority to use a Taser or deadly force on Wright because he could have fatally dragged Johnson.
Prosecutors have argued that Potter acted recklessly and negligently, and that neither a Taser nor a gun were appropriate for the situation.
In her cross-examination, Eldridge emphasized the amount of training Potter received on weapons and use-of-force in her career. Eldridge also walked Potter through the physical contrasts between her Taser and handgun and the different manner in which each is unclasped and drawn from its respective holster — one located on her left side and the other on her right.
Eldridge tried to turn Potter’s experience as a crisis negotiator against her.
“You had to develop that skill set and be pretty good at de-escalating situations as a crisis negotiator, fair?” Eldridge asked.
‘Yes,” Potter said.
“And part of your job as a police officer is dealing with people on their worst days, right?” Eldridge asked.
“Yes,” Potter said.
Potter’s defense began Friday’s testimony with Dr. Laurence Miller of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a psychologist who testified about “slip and capture errors” in which a dominant behavior inadvertently replaces a less-dominant one. Hennepin County District Judge Regina Chu ruled that Miller could testify about the phenomenon but not offer a diagnosis for Potter’s actions on April 11.
Miller explained that “slip and capture” is a subset of an “action error,” which he defined as a “sequence of responses in which an intended action has an unintended effect, especially where it does not have to do with outside interference, willful neglect or conscious manipulation.”
Boiling it down, Miller said, “You intend to do one thing, think you’re doing that thing, but do something else, and only realize later that the action you intended was not the one you took.”
He said such confusion can occur under situations of “hyperarousal” or extreme stress.
“A lot of times people say, ‘How could you not know the difference between this particular object and that particular object … How could you not know the difference between let’s say, a flashlight and a baton, or a Taser and a firearm?’ These are all objects that have been confused with a firearm in various cases,” Miller said.
Eldridge noted in her cross-examination of Miller that a fair amount of his income came from consulting with police departments and testifying on behalf of police officers in criminal cases. He charged Potter’s defense a $30,000 fee for his work.
Eldridge then took aim at the term “slip and capture,” saying it wasn’t widely recognized in the field of psychology and was considered “junk science” by some. She attacked Miller’s testimony that other professions such as medicine and aviation also are commonly beset by such errors.
“How many planes fall out of the sky every day?” she asked.
“Fortunately, very few,” Miller said.
Jurors will hear closing arguments next Monday before deliberating the charges against Potter — one count each of first- and second-degree manslaughter.