A police officer who shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Demetrius Wright during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, on Sunday afternoon did so by mistake, authorities said during a testy Monday afternoon press briefing.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, or BCA, identified the officer as Kim Potter in a statement late Monday. Potter is a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center police force.
The shooting set off a night of roiling protests and reignited tensions between police and a community still enflamed by the death of George Floyd.
According to Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon, Potter accidentally discharged her service weapon, thinking it was her stun gun, during the encounter with Wright, a Black man. Gannon said he believes the officer grabbed the wrong weapon.
“As I watched the video and listened to the officers’ commands, it is my belief that the officer had the intention to deploy their taser, but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet,” he said. “This appears to me, from what I viewed and the officer’s reaction and distress immediately afterward, that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Wright.”
Gannon said Brooklyn Center police are trained to carry their handguns on their dominant-hand side and holster their taser guns on the side of their off hand. He’s asked the BCA to investigate the shooting, which touched off a night of protests and rioting in the Twin Cities suburb that borders Minneapolis.
Wright’s shooting comes less than a year after Floyd was killed during an encounter with four Minneapolis police officers. The area is still reeling from that tragedy as Derek Chauvin, the officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly 10 minutes, is in the midst of his murder trial for Floyd’s death.
“We recognize that this couldn’t have happened at a worst time,” Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliot said during Monday’s press conference. “We recognize that this is happening at a time when our community, when all of America and indeed all of the world is watching. That we are all collectively devastated, and we have been for over a year now by the killing of George Floyd. And that we continue to be distressed as we go through the Derrick Chauvin trial.”
The mayor later said he supported Potter’s termination.
“My position is that we cannot afford to make mistakes that lead to the loss of life of other people in our profession,” Elliot said. “And so I do fully support releasing the officer of her duties.”
When asked directly if that meant he felt she should be fired, Elliot responded “I do.”
Wright was shot during a traffic stop in the 6300 block of Orchard Avenue just before 2 p.m. Sunday, according to KARE 11. Police pulled him over because he had an air freshener dangling from his rearview mirror, his mother says. It turned out Wright had an outstanding misdemeanor warrant, and as officers attempted to take him into custody, Wright jumped back into his car. That’s when Potter fired a single fatal gunshot.
Wright drove a few blocks before colliding with another vehicle, where he died, the Brooklyn Center Police Department indicated in a statement Sunday.
Gannon released a 54-second clip from the officer’s bodycam footage, which showed the deadly encounter.
The video showed Wright with three officers during the traffic stop. One of the male officers had Wright step out of his car. A struggle ensued as he was being handcuffed, and Potter rushed in to assist as Wright jumped back into his driver’s seat.
“I’ll tase ya,” Potter is heard saying repeatedly as she draws her gun.
She then yelled, “Taser, taser, taser,” before firing a single bullet at Wright through the open car door. She immediately reacted as if it was a mistake.
“Oh s–t, I just shot him,” Potter said as Wright drove away.
Potter, who reported to be 48 years old, is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the BCA investigation. Gannon refuted claims on social media that she had committed suicide.
The chief balked at saying she should be fired for her fatal mistake, and initially left the press conference after being asked if she should. He later returned at the mayor’s behest and told reporters the officer deserved due process before any decisions on her job are made.
“She has the right to be heard, she has the right to give her statement, she has right to tell what she felt what she thought,” he said. “Not what I thought, not what I saw, but what she thought and what she did. And that may have an impact. She’s on administrative time. She will not be returning to duty until this investigation’s run its course. … I think we can look at the video and ascertain whether or not she’ll be returning.”
Brooklyn Center City Manager Curt Boganey also faced push back by reporters in the room after he too called for the officer to receive due process.
Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, spoke to reporters at the scene Sunday.
“All he did was have air fresheners in the car and they told him to get out of the car,” she told the Star Tribune, explaining that Wright called her as he was getting pulled over. “He got out of the car, and his girlfriend said they shot him. He got back in the car, and he drove away and crashed and now he’s dead on the ground since 1:47. … Nobody will tell us anything. Nobody will talk to us. … I said please take my son off the ground.”
The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension conducts independent criminal investigations in officer-involved shootings to determine if officers violated the law. Gannon said he has little to do with the criminal investigation once he hands it off to the state agency.
“Please realize in an officer involved shooting, what happens is I have no contact with that investigation because I don’t want to taint that investigation,” he explained. “People can say they scoff at that. I looked at this video, which is unprecedented. I don’t know of any chiefs that done that very often or have looked at the video in advance of that. So sometimes you can’t un-watch a video… So what I’m saying is I have limited information. I’m not trying to be disingenuous, but I’m trying to stay away from the investigation.”
According to CNN, Wright was shot about 10 miles northwest of the scene of George Floyd’s May 25 fateful brush with law enforcement. Hundreds of protesters marched to the Brooklyn Center Police Department and had a standoff with officers in riot gear, who line up in formation outside the agency’s headquarters.
The protests lasted into the early morning hours. Officials said two people were arrested for refusing to leave after police order the crowds to disperse.
Minnesota Department of Public Safety commissioner John Harrington said Monday that 20 businnesses at a nearby mall were pillaged overnight, according to the Washington Post.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz issued a three-county curfew for 7 p.m. Monday and called for the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul to follow suit.
When asked about his response to Sunday night’s round of protests, Gannon said he gave the orders to fire rubber bullets and use tear gas after the rally grew disorderly and one Hennepin County deputy was hit in the head with a brick.
“We were being pelted with frozen cans of pop, they were being held pelted with concrete blocks,” Gannon said. “So we had to make decisions. We had to disperse the crowd because we can’t allow our officers to be harmed.”
Some of the organizers, however, said police used tear gas on innocent protesters and fire flashbang grenades that threatened an apartment complex in the area. He said he wouldn’t things differently.
“I’m the leader of this department,” Gannon said as he choked back tears. “They expect me to lead, create a safe city. And that’s what I’m trying to do.
“And, yeah, I’m emotional,” he added. “I’m just trying to be honest.”
President Joe Biden chimed in from the White House, confirming that he’s watched the video and offering a stern message to enraged residents protesting. “In the meantime, I want to make it clear again: There is absolutely no justification, none, for looting … Peaceful protest? Understandable.”