Ex-Minnesota officer charged in Daunte Wright death appears in court; family calls for stiffer charge

Race in America

BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. (NewsNation Now) — Daunte Wright’s family members joined with community leaders Thursday in calling for “full accountability” for his death and more serious charges against a white police officer in Wright’s death, comparing her case to the murder charge brought against a Black officer who killed a white woman in nearby Minneapolis.

Former Brooklyn Center police Officer Kim Potter was charged with second-degree manslaughter in Sunday’s shooting of Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop. The former police chief in Brooklyn Center, a majority nonwhite suburb, said Potter mistakenly fired her handgun when she meant to use her Taser. Both the chief and Potter resigned Tuesday.

Potter — who was released on $100,000 bond hours after her arrest Wednesday — appeared alongside her attorney, Earl Gray, at her initial appearance Thursday over Zoom, saying very little. Gray kept his camera on himself for most of the hearing, swiveling it just to show Potter only briefly. Her next court appearance was set for May 17. Hennepin County Judge Paul Scoggin reminded Potter that while out on bond, she must remain lawful, make all court appearances and not possess or transport firearms or explosives.

In charging Potter with second-degree manslaughter, prosecutors will try to show she was “culpably negligent” and took an “unreasonable risk” in shooting Wright on Sunday.

Prior to the hearing, the Wright family and their lawyers gathered at a church in Minneapolis where his funeral will be held next Thursday to remember the father of a 2-year-old son and press for an aggressive prosecution of Potter.

“The last few days, everybody has asked me what do we want to see happen,” Wright’s mother Katie Wright said. “I do want accountability, 100% accountability. … But even when that happens, if that happens, we’re still going to bury our son.”

FILE – This photo provided by Ben Crump Law, PLLC. shows Daunte Wright and his son, Daunte Jr., at his first birthday party. Wright, 20, was killed during a traffic stop by a white suburban Minneapolis police officer on Sunday, April 11, 2021. (Ben Crump Law, PLLC. via AP)

Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for the Wright family, said the shooting reflected a broader problem of law enforcement in the United States using excessive force and having a propensity to “overpolice marginalized minorities, especially Black men.”

But Crump said the move to charge Potter also represented some progress following the lack of prosecutions of officers involved in the deaths of Black men such as Eric Garner and Michael Brown in recent years.

“All this family is striving for is to get full accountability, get equal justice. Nothing more and nothing less,” Crump told the briefing at the New Salem Missionary Baptist Church.

However, protesters and Wright’s family members say there’s no excuse for the shooting and want Potter to face more serious charges.

“Unfortunately, there’s never going to be justice for us,” Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, said Thursday. “Justice isn’t even a word to me. I do want accountability.”

Crump said “full accountability, to get equal justice” is all the family wants — “nothing more, nothing less.”

“The question has always remained in America, can minorities get the same equal justice under the law when white police kill us?” Crump said.

Crump and other advocates for Wright point to the 2017 case of Mohamed Noor. The Black former Minneapolis police officer fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a white woman who was a dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia, in the alley behind her home after she called 911 to report what she thought was a woman being assaulted.

Noor was convicted of third-degree murder in addition to second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison. Potter’s charge carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence and a $20,000 fine.

Noor testified that he fired to protect his partner’s life after hearing a loud bang on the squad car and seeing a woman at his partner’s window raising her arm. Prosecutors criticized Noor for shooting without seeing a weapon or Damond’s hands.

Potter’s attorney has not spoken publicly or returned messages from The Associated Press about the shooting of Wright and the criminal case.

Many critics of the police believe the race of those involved played a role in which charges were brought.

“If the officer was Black, perhaps even a minority man, and the victim was a young, white female affluent kid, the chief would have fired him immediately and the county prosecutor would have charged him with murder, without a doubt,” said Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Potter could have easily been charged with third-degree murder, which carries a 25-year maximum sentence, said Rachel Moran, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. But she noted that one key difference between the Noor and Potter cases is that Potter will likely argue using the gun was a mistake, while Noor never said he didn’t intend to use his weapon.

“This is kind of the compromise charge, which isn’t to say it’s not serious. It is,” Moran said. “But they’re not reaching for the most serious charge they could theoretically file. They’re also not washing their hands and saying she has no criminal liability.”

Washington County Attorney Pete Orput did not return The Associated Press messages Thursday seeking comment.

Wright’s death came as the broader Minneapolis area nervously awaits the outcome of the trial for Derek Chauvin, one of four officers charged in George Floyd’s death. Crump pointed to that trial as having the potential to set a precedent for “police officers being held accountable and sent to prison for killing Black people.”

Police say Wright was pulled over for expired tags on Sunday, but they sought to arrest him after discovering he had an outstanding warrant. The warrant was for his failure to appear in court on charges that he fled from officers and possessed a gun without a permit during an encounter with Minneapolis police in June.

Potter, a 26-year veteran, was training another officer at the time.

Body camera video shows Wright struggling with police after they say they’re going to arrest him, before Potter pulls her gun. Potter can be heard shouting: “Taser, Taser, Taser!” as she draws her weapon and opens fire on Wright in his car after he had just pulled away from a fellow officer. She is then is heard saying: “Holy (expletive), I just shot him.”

Naisha Wright, Daunte Wright’s aunt, grew emotional at the briefing with other family members, saying, “Can we get a conviction? Can we get something? Manslaughter?”

Naisha Wright, aunt of the deceased Daunte Wright, holds up images depicting X26P Taser and a Glock 17 handgun during a news conference at New Salem Missionary Baptist Church, Thursday, April 15, 2021, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

She held up a photo of a Taser and then one of a handgun.

“But no, my nephew was killed with this — a Glock,” she said.

Protesters who have clashed with police since Sunday’s shooting have also drawn comparisons to the Noor case in arguing that white police officers receive preferential treatment in a system biased against Black people.

Intent isn’t a necessary component of second-degree manslaughter in Minnesota. The charge can be applied in circumstances where a person is suspected of causing a death by “culpable negligence” that creates an unreasonable risk and consciously takes chances to cause a death.

The criminal complaint noted that Potter holstered her handgun on the right side and her Taser on the left. To remove the Taser — which is yellow and has a black grip — Potter would have to use her left hand, the complaint said.

Experts say cases of officers mistakenly firing their gun instead of a Taser are rare, usually less than once a year nationwide.

Hours after the charge was announced Wednesday, demonstrators clashed with police stationed behind a chain-link fence protecting the city’s police station. It was the fourth straight night of protests and unrest, with several hundred people filling the street in front of the station despite a mix of snow and rain, chanting, “Say his name! Daunte Wright!”

A couple hundred protesters rallied outside Brooklyn Center police headquarters again on Thursday evening.

The mood was largely festive. But individuals in the crowd persisted in shouting taunts at sheriff’s deputies or National Guard troops posted on the opposite side of a double barricade of concrete and chain-link fencing erected in front of the building.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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