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'I'm so sorry,' Potter weeps from witness stand before defense rests

17December 2021

Kimberly Potter took the stand in her own defense Friday and recalled the moments on April 11, when “it just went chaotic” before realizing she shot Daunte Wright with her handgun and not her Taser as he resisted arrest.

After final moments of cross examination in the afternoon, when Potter broke down while sobbing, “I’m sorry it happened, I’m so sorry,” the defense rested its case and the jury was dismissed until closing arguments in Hennepin County District Court on Monday.

Early in her testimony, Potter recalled how she and two other officers “were struggling” as Wright resisted arrest. “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, covering her face.

Potter said while training officer Anthony Luckey was attempting to arrest Wright for a weapons warrant, he began resisting arrest and got back in the car, and she could see Sgt. Mychal Johnson through the passenger door on the other side struggling to keep the vehicle from driving off.

“And I could see his face,” she said of Johnson. “He had a look of fear on his face. It was something I’d never seen before.”

Prosecutor Erin Eldridge peppered Potter with a series of questions during cross examination about why she didn’t render aid to Wright after his car sped down the street, striking another vehicle, or report shots fired.

“But you didn’t do any of those things, on April 11, did you?” Eldridge asked. Potter said she did not.

“You stopped doing your job completely,” Eldridge said. “…You didn’t run down the street and try to save Daunte Wright’s life?” Again, Potter said “no.”

“…You were focused on what you had done, because you had just killed somebody.”

“I’m sorry it happened,” Potter cried. “I’m so sorry.”

“Ms. Potter, your reaction today, from your reaction on your video, you didn’t plan to use deadly force that day did you?”

“No..No.”

“You knew that deadly force was unreasonable and unwarranted under the circumstances.”

“I didn’t want to hurt anybody.”

Gray countered Potter’s answers by asking his client, asking who was responsible at the scene to call in the shooting? She said it was Sgt. Johnson’s duty to do so.

Eldridge came back and sought to paint an especially, even protective relationship she had with her fellow officers.

Asked if she told a psychologist working for the defense whether she said she resigned one day after the shooting to protect police in the department that she considered family, she said. yes.

“They are very important people to you?” the prosecutor asked, and Potter agreed.

Also under defense questioning by defense attorney Earl Gray, Potter recounted as other witnesses had earlier in the trial about why the traffic stop was initiated and the roles of Luckey and Johnson at the scene.

She said Luckey initiated the stop after seeing Wright’s car make a suspicious blinker signal, noticing an air freshener on his rearview mirror, then determining the vehicle registration tabs were expired. Luckey soon learned Wright had a warrant for his arrest on a weapons charge and a court order for protection requested by a woman.

All of those and other circumstances, especially the warrant, created “a cause of care and concern” for her and her fellow officers, she said.

Potter testified that as Luckey was arresting Wright, Potter removed a piece of paper from his right hand and held it in her left hand.

Potter testified she recalls little from the immediate aftermath, where body camera footage played earlier in her trial showed an extremely distraught Potter repeatedly saying “Oh my God.” and “I’m going to prison.”

“They had an ambulance for me and I don’t know why, and I was at the station. I don’t remember a lot of things afterwards,” Potter said.

“Do you remember saying something about prison?” Gray asked.

“No,” Potter said.

If you did say that, do you have any idea why you would say that?” he asked. Potter said she didn’t know.

“Was the climate back then about police officers a little rough?” Gray asked.

Prosecutors objected, and it was sustained by Judge Regina Chu.

Gray closed his questioning by having Potter explain that she resigned immediately after the shooting because “there was so much bad things happening” and she didn’t want to place her co-workers and the city in harm’s way. She and her husband have since sold their home in Anoka County and moved out of state. She’s currently in therapy, she said.

Prosecutor Erin Eldridge opened her cross examination by emphasizing the amount of training Potter underwent in her 26 years as an officer, ranging from weapons to use of force.

“And you [trained] every year throughout that 26 year period?” Eldridge said.

“Yes,” Potter replied.

“Sometimes multiple times a year, right?” Eldridge asked.

“Yes,” Potter agreed.

Eldridge soon turned to comparing Potter’s Taser and her handgun in color, safety latch and holster. Potter agreed with there are difference in each of those areas.

Potter said she was certain she had never shot her firearm while on duty and almost certain of the same in her career regarding her Taser, but did say she would draw it “for de-escalation [purposes] a few times.”

Eldridge recounted two instances years ago when Potter drew her Taser as her partners struggled to get a suspect to comply. Potter agreed that she did not fire her Taser either time.

Turning back to the traffic stop, Potter admitted under questioning that she never saw a gun on Wright, nor was he violent and he did not make verbal threats. Eldridge then played Potter’s body worn camera, which showed the piece of paper Potter earlier testified was in her left hand moving from her left to her right, and then back to her left during the struggle with Wright.

Just when the paper is in Potter’s left hand her gun aimed at Wright as he sat in the car, Potter became overcome with emotion. Gray spoke up, asked for a break for his client, and Chu ended proceedings for lunch. Potter, shaking as the jury left the room, then left the stand and walked over to her attorneys. Gray put an arm around her while Engh patted her back.

Before being questioned about the day of the shooting, Potter told the court about growing up in Columbia Heights, how she became interested in law enforcement and the education and experiences she acquired leading up to becoming a Brooklyn Center police officer in 1995.

She said she was a patrol officer until her resignation in April, but took on other duties such as being a field patrol officer to direct and mentor new officers, which was her role on the day that Wright was shot. She chose to remain a patrol officer rather than seek a promotion because “I liked my work, I enjoyed working with the community, I didn’t want to be in an administrative role.”

Asked by Gray why she chose to be a field training officer, Potter said “I felt that I had knowledge and mentorship that I felt I could help develop young officers into someone I wanted to work with and my fellow officers wanted to work with.”

Dr. Laurence Miller of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was first to the witness stand Friday, and he testified about “slip and capture errors” that cause a dominant behavior to inadvertently replace a less-dominant one.

The defense insists that Potter must be acquitted because she mistakenly grabbed her handgun from her right hip, rather than her Taser from the other side.

Miller, who the court said could not answer questions about the shooting, 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 trivial versions of this occur all the time, such as writing the previous year on a check in the first couple weeks of a new year.

He said these confusions can happen 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.

“So the point is there’s nothing wrong with the person’s perception. Pput the two objects in front of them they can tell the difference. But the perception isn’t working, it’s offline.”

He said weapons confusion is a subset of action errors, most commonly known as a “slip and capture” error, meaning the correct response, “slips away,” and the action is “captured” by older, more well entrenched actions.

Confusing a Taser for a gun, he said “is the most typical example of what’s meant by weapon confusion.”

In her cross-examination, Erin Eldridge at first pointed out that he a fair amount of his income comes from consulting with police departments and testifying on behalf of police officers in criminal cases. She brought up his $30,000 fee for his work in this case on behalf of Potter.

Eldridge then took aim at the term “slip and capture,” saying that’s not widely recognized in the field of psychology and considered “junk science” by some.

Miller responded that “slip and capture” is merely a term that police officers can relate to, and it refers to form of an “action error.”

Eldridge alluded to differences in a Taser and handgun when she pointed out a Taser is of a different and brighter color, is holstered in a different way and is carried elsewhere on a person vs. a handgun.

She also harkened by to Potter failing to test her Taser every single day before her shifts leading up to the shooting, and Miller agreed that “the more practice, the better effect” on the ability to make the right choices.

Potter is expected to be the final witness.

Jurors will likely receive the case Monday after defense and prosecution closing arguments. Potter, 49, is charged in Hennepin County District Court with first- and second-degree manslaughter in connection with the April 11 shooting of the 20-year-old Wright after a traffic stop that led to officers learning there was a weapons-related warrant for his arrest.

Potter shot Wright after shouting “I will tase you” twice and “Taser!” three times but fired her handgun instead. The car briefly traveled with a wounded Wright behind the wheel and soon crashed into another car on N. 63rd Avenue. Wright died at the scene.

The defense insists that Potter must be acquitted because she mistakenly grabbed her handgun from her right hip, rather than her Taser from the other side.

On Thursday, a policing expert and Brooklyn Center’s former police chief testified that Potter had the legal authority to fire a Taser or a gun on Wright. Prosecutors attempted to raise doubts about their credibility by either noting personal ties with Potter, allegiance to law enforcement or limited assessment of her character.

Tim Gannon, who resigned as chief under pressure days after the shooting, testified that he reviewed footage from Potter’s body camera and from a squad camera.

“I saw no violation,” Gannon said.

“No violation of what?” asked Gray.

“Of policy, procedure or law,” Gannon said.

Under cross-examination, Gannon acknowledged that he and Potter are friends away from the workplace. He said he felt bad for her after the shooting and still does.

In response, Gray asked, “Ex-Police Chief Gannon, would you lie under oath to help a friend out?”

“Sir, there’s a reason I’m an ex-chief — no one gets me to do something or say something I don’t believe in,” Gannon said. “I wouldn’t lie.”

Prosecutor Matthew Frank attacked the argument that Wright could have injured two other officers at the scene had he driven in reverse. The defense has posed that scenario and a second one — Wright’s car fatally dragging one officer as it sped forward — justified using a Taser or deadly force, such as a gun.

Earlier Thursday, defense witness and policing expert Stephen Ijames, said Potter had the legal authority to use her Taser or gun, noting the officers who encountered Wright would have been in an elevated state of vigilance after learning about the warrant.

Frank asked Ijames whether shooting someone in a vehicle could cause “collateral injury” because of the potential for the vehicle to move.

“It would depend completely, sir, on the circumstance — if we’re on a downtown street compared to in the middle of a cornfield,” Ijames said.

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