The police chief at the time Kimberly Potter fatally shot Daunte Wright testified in her manslaughter trial Thursday that she was justified in deciding to use her Taser to gain compliance and also had the right to use deadly force against him under the circumstances.
Court was adjourned Thursday afternoon, with the defense’s final two witnesses, including Potter, expected to testify Friday.
Tim Gannon, who gave up his post under pressure in the days after the shooting for refusing to immediately fire Potter viewed her body worn camera in the hours after the shooting or much later a squad dashboard camera that captured some of what happened at the scene where Wright was pulled over.
“When I viewed both camera angles, and had the data in front of me, I saw no violation,” Gannon said.
“No violation of what? defense attorney Earl Gray asked.
“Of policy, procedure or law,” Gannon said.
“A Taser could have been used in that situation,” Gannon said on the first day of the defense presenting its case in the manslaughter trial against the former Brooklyn Center police officer, who is contending that she shot Wright with her handgun while believing she was deploying her Taser.
Asked whether he has the same opinion about Potter shooting Wright with a handgun, Gannon said, “That is correct.”
Gannon brought up that Sgt. Mychal Johnson was partly in Wright’s car on the passenger side, and recalled once being dragged himself by a vehicle while on a call.
He called the experience “sheer terror” and “[I] was simply trying to survive.”
Prosecutor Matthew Frank objected to this recollection, and the line of questioning came to a halt.
Asked about whether Wright was in control of his car and could posed imminent danger to Johnson, Gannon said, “He was not in control of his vehicle at the time she deployed his Taser.”
Frank countered that wouldn’t that mean there was no danger to Johnson based on his proximity to the vehicle? “I disagree with that,” Gannon said.
Earlier Thursday, a longtime police officer and law enforcement expert testified that firing a Taser at Wright would have been proper as he tried to flee a traffic stop, and even though she fired her handgun instead, that deadly force also would have been reasonable given the circumstances.
Gannon acknowledged during cross-examination that he and Potter were friends who would be at social gatherings for anniversaries and the like, and would spend “personal time with her family.” He said under questioning that he felt bad for her after what happened and still does.
However, he said, his friendship with Potter was not influencing his testimony.
Defense attorney Earl 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.”
Gannon was followed by several character witnesses who testified to Potter’s reputation as a solid, law-abiding officer.
Colleen Fricke, who worked with Potter as a Brooklyn Center officer as a patrol officer and now works in Brooklyn Park, testified that Potter, who she considered a friend, was a good police officer.
Fricke said: “I think she was a remarkable police officer because she’s a remarkable person,” before Chu sustained a prosecution objection and told the jury to disregard the latter portion of Fricke’s statement.
She was followed by Thomas Hall, a family friend, and Frank Roth, Potter’s retired Brookly Center sergeant, and another former Brooklyn Center colleague, Samuel Smith.
Prosecutors on Thursday rested their case for why jurors should convict former Potter of manslaughter in connection with the shooting of Wright as he resisted arrest during a traffic stop.
Now it was the defense’s turn to spell out why Potter should not be found guilty of firing her gun and killing the 20-year-old Wright in April, when she meant to draw her less-lethal Taser and shock him into compliance as she and other officers tried to arrest him on a warrant for a weapons charge.
The defense’s first witness was a longtime expert in policing who has traveled the world as a consultant and advised federal and state agencies around the United States and is testifying for the defense at his own expense.
Stephen Ijames, of Springfield Missouri, took head-on the two primary questions about Potter’s actions and said she was both justified in deciding to use her Taser and it was reasonable for her to use deadly force against Wright as he resisted arrest even though she did not intend to do so.
Ijames said Potter telling Wright “I’ll tase you” twice “is the standard warning” for thousands of police agencies around the country. Likewise, he said, that her then saying “Taser! Taser! Taser!” to warn the other officers to back off “is especially taught in the lesson plan” that he wrote for the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Referencing one of the those officers on the scene, Mychal Johnson, defense attorney Paul Engh asked: “Was he at risk of death or great bodily harm if he did not get out of that car as quickly as he did?”
“Had the vehicle been put in drive, beyond question.” Ijames said.
Engh asked that, hypothetically, that if an officer saw an other officer struggling in a similar situation, would the use of deadly force be reasonable? Ijames said an officer must first evaluate whether anyone at the scene is at risk of death or great bodily harm.
“An officer half in and half out of a vehicle that is about to be put into drive with the door open would certainly meet that standard of being in immediate danger of death or serious physical injury,” Ijames said.
“So an officer could shoot?” Engh asked.
Ijames replied: “It would meet that standard, and an officer could shoot, yes sir.”
Engh also bounced off Ijames several conclusions about Potter’s actions that prosecution expert Seth Stoughton made while testifying Wednesday, including that Wright’s arrest could wait and be made later.
“With a bench warrant [for a weapons charge], is there an obligation to arrest him?” Engh asked.
“Absolutely, a mandate.” Ijames said. “Police officers enforce the law. The order from a judge is, from my experience, literally the highest order we operate on and if a court order says that person is subject to arrest, they will be arrested.”
In outlining his background, Ijames noted that he is currently an expert in four criminal cases, with three of them on behalf of prosecuting law enforcement officers and this one defending a police officer. He later corrected himself under cross-examination that he has an additional criminal case in which he is working on behalf of an accused officer somewhere in Minnesota.
Ijames said he accepts no fees in these types of cases because “something as significant as someone’s freedom” he wants to take away “any question about motivation” behind his testimony and analysis of the evidence.
Under cross examination by prosecutor Matthew Frank, Ijames acknowledged that his primary assignment was to assess Taser use in this case, and he only started start reviewing deadly force at the defense’s request until Johnson testified last week that it was justified.
He said his conclusion was based not the actual facts in the case but on a hypothetical question of whether “a reasonable officer” in Potter’s position would be justified to fire her gun after seeing that Johnson was in harm’s way.
Frank also asked Ijames whether he reviewed Brooklyn Center policy on shooting into motor vehicles. Ijames said he didn’t recall.
“In that policy, it talks about discouraging … shooting at occupants of motor vehicles,” Frank said. “Would you agree with me that the reason for that is the potential for collateral injury when you disable the person driving the motor vehicle?”
Ijames asked whether he could read the policy for context.
“But do you agree with the that general concept, that’s the concern of the risk that causes?” Frank asked.
“The greater risk that comes to my mind … is concern about people close by, not the person driving off,” Ijames said.
“In a vehicle that’s being driven, if the driver is shot, it’s not going to make them a safe driver, is it?” Frank asked.
“No, sir,” Ijames said.
“So that’s the danger presented right?” Frank continued. “You’re shooting a person, but you’re putting others at risk because you’ve got a vehicle that’s moving that could harm somebody,”
Ijames said it would depend on the circumstances, like whether the vehicle was on a downtown street or “in the middle of a cornfield.”
In March 2020, Ijames was an expert witness for the defense in the manslaughter trial of Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Krook, who ultimately was acquitted of manslaughter in the shooting in April 18, 2018, of a suicidal Benjamin Evans in Lake Elmo.
Ijames said that a case like Krook’s, in which a suicidal man armed with a gun refuses commands to disarm, represents the “single most difficult call in policing today, no exception.” Krook’s defense team included Engh.
Before testimony began Thursday, and after the jury was sent out of the room, Engh moved for a judgment of acquittal, calling the testimony “a confusing mess” after expert Seth Stoughton testified that use of a Taser would have been unreasonable, which Engh said was in conflict with other witnesses, including other police officers, that a Taser was reasonable.
Frank contended that the bar is high to remove the case from the hands of a jury, and maintained there is “adequate evidence” that Potter acted recklessly despite her training when she fired at Wright.
“If there are conflicting pieces of evidence, that’s for juries to weigh,” he said.
Chu took just a moment and then denied the defense request for acquittal.
Prosecutors called 25 witnesses over the course of six days of testimony, ranging from police officers to Wright’s family members, a medical examiner and policing expert.
The defense is expected to call several witnesses, including the 49-year-old Potter, who is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter. If convicted, she faces several years in prison.
Prosecutors wrapped up calling witnesses and presenting evidence on Wednesday, when their a use-of-force expert testified that it was unreasonable for Potter to use a Taser — let alone a handgun — when trying to subdue Wright.
University of South Carolina School of Law Associate Prof. Seth Stoughton said that, rather than use a Taser, police could have let Wright, who slid back behind the wheel as an officer was attempting to handcuff him, drive off. Stoughton explained that Wright was “unlikely to avoid future apprehension,” because his identity was known.
Stoughton did agree with the defense that Potter mistakenly grabbed her Glock handgun, but he added that even the Taser was inappropriate to use on Wright as he sat in the driver’s seat.
“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,” he said, pointing out that the pain from a Taser would provide “incentive to flee.”
His testimony led to a combative cross-examination by defense lawyer Earl Gray, who questioned Stoughton’s credentials, experience and conclusion that the three Brooklyn Center officers should have let Wright drive away.
Gray asked Stoughton, who once worked as a police officer, whether he would have heightened concerns about the driver of a vehicle who had an arrest warrant for a weapons charge, as Wright did. Stoughton says he couldn’t answer yes or no.
Gray asked whether the police work on the stop of Wright was OK until he slipped off the handcuffs. Stoughton responded, “I would not describe it as the best tactical approach, no.”
Gray retorted, “You wouldn’t describe it that way, but you haven’t been a police officer for 15 years.”
Testimony culminated Wednesday with Arbuey Wright, Daunte’s 42-year-old father, on the stand, tearfully providing sentimental “spark-of-life” testimony about missing his son.
Shown a photo of Daunte holding his year-old son, Daunte Jr., Arbuey Wright said, “To see him as a father, it was like I was so happy for him because he was so happy. He was so happy about Junior. It was my chance to be a grandfather.”