The former police officer on trial for killing Daunte Wright testified Friday she “wouldn't have stopped the car” the day that led to the fatal shooting in Brooklyn Center, Minn., on April 11. Instead, the officer she was training made the decision to pull Wright over.
“I’m so sorry. … I didn’t want to hurt anybody,” Kimberly Potter said sobbing after returning from a break in the trial Friday at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis.
Potter, who worked as a Brooklyn Center police officer for 26 years, broke down as her defense attorney questioned her about the incident, which she said “just went chaotic.” She described what happened when Wright tried to break away from Officer Anthony Luckey, the trainee.
“Officer Luckey started to say something about ‘don’t do that, don’t tense up, stop doing that’ and then it just went chaotic.”
As the trial draws to a close, this is the first time Potter is publicly giving her description of the shooting. Potter, 49, is facing two counts of manslaughter for shooting Wright, 20.
It was around 2 p.m. that she said they pulled Wright over after Luckey noticed the white Buick with improper use of a blinker and an air freshener hanging from the rearview window, which violates a Minnesota rule that says motorists can’t hang objects from there. After they ran the plate, they found it had expired tags. They also discovered Wright had a warrant out for a misdemeanor weapons charge, and they attempted to arrest him for that.
Once out of the car, they notified him he was under arrest and had an outstanding warrant. He wrestled himself away from Luckey and managed to hop back in the car. That's when Potter yelled, “I’ll tase you!” and “Taser, Taser, Taser!” before she fired once. But it was her gun and not the Taser. Bodycam footage caught the incident and shows her distress in the aftermath, saying, “I grabbed the wrong f***ing gun.”
While reliving the moment in court, her defense attorney, Earl Gray, asked about the moment she saw then-Sgt. Mychal Johnson’s face from the passenger side of the car as he attempted to stop Wright from taking off.
“He had a look of fear on his face. It’s nothing I’d seen before,” she said as she started to shake.
“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 he told me I shot him,” she continued, while fully breaking down in tears.
She and Luckey were considered one officer, she said, because he was a trainee and probationary employee, so they had to call for backup because a warrant was involved.
Potter testified that “weapon confusion” was mentioned in training, but that officers never physically practiced this specific procedure. While she has had to pull her Taser on a few occasions, her attorneys said she’d never fired a weapon in her entire career.
She added she doesn’t remember what she said following the shooting, including anything about saying she was going to prison, which was captured in bodycam footage.
The video of the incident also showed a mysterious piece of white paper in Potter’s left hand. She testified that it was something she pulled out of Wright’s right hand before she moved it to her left, which the state mentioned on cross-examination.
Prosecutor Erin Eldridge hammered on Potter’s training as an officer who had carried a gun for her 26-year tenure and a Taser since 2005.
“You’d agree that your fundamental duty as a police officer is to safeguard life, right? And you also have the duty to never employ unnecessary force, true?” she asked Potter, to which she responded yes to both questions.
Eldridge mentioned Potter had “somewhere in the ballpark of 1,700 credit hours” for use-of-force training.
“Part of the Taser policy includes that all training should include performing reaction-hand draws or cross-draws to reduce the possibility of accidentally drawing and firing a firearm. That’s part of the policy, right?” Eldridge asked.
She brought up two incidents when Potter did not deploy her Taser before walking her through the video of the shooting frame by frame. Once she got to the point of the gunshot, Potter broke down and her attorney called for a break.
Potter’s chief of police at the time, Tim Gannon, testified Thursday and said he "saw no violation” after he viewed both angles of footage from the shooting. He said he had to resign due to political pressure two days after the April 11 shooting because he wouldn’t immediately fire Potter. Potter also resigned the same day.
Before Potter’s testimony Friday, the defense called on Laurence Miller, a psychologist who teaches at Florida Atlantic University and published a book last year about the psychology of police shootings. He was asked to explain “action error” in regard to making a mistake.
"You intend to do one thing, think you're doing that thing but do something else and only realize later that the action that you intended was not the one you took," Miller said.
He said this can happen frequently, like writing a check in January with the wrong year.
"It was that old action program coming back for that moment because your attention was distracted while you were intending to do something else," Miller added.
This is another trial in which race has become a major factor. The killing of Wright, who is Black, sparked angry protests and demonstrations for several days in Brooklyn Center, an inner-ring suburb in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area. It happened while Derek Chauvin, a white officer, was on trial for the 2020 Minneapolis killing of George Floyd. Potter is also white.
The defense in the Potter trial rested its case on Friday.