Ex-officer offers potential defenses in Daunte Wright killing

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The former Brooklyn Center police officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright after apparently mistaking her gun for a Taser might defend her actions at trial by framing them as "reasonable" or an "innocent mistake," according to a court filing.

Kimberly Potter's attorneys, Paul Engh and Earl Gray, filed a notice of defenses Wednesday afternoon that was made public Thursday morning outlining four potential options.

The defenses are: "Innocent Accident," "Innocent Mistake," "Her perceived use of a Taser was reasonable" and "Lack of causation."

"What the jury will see and hear about instead is an accident," Engh and Gray wrote in another court filing. "And a police officer's accidental shot is not a crime."

Potter's attorneys reserved the right to introduce other defenses at a later date pending further review of "voluminous" evidence. They noted that they don't know whether prosecutors would add additional charges against Potter, which could affect their defense.

"Disclosure of her defenses is dependent upon an understanding of not only what the charges currently are, but what they may be in the future," Potter's attorneys wrote.

Potter, who is free on $100,000 bond, is charged with one count each of first-degree manslaughter and second-degree manslaughter. The higher count was added in early September.

Potter is scheduled to be tried Nov. 30.

Potter fatally shot Wright, 20, on April 11 during a traffic stop. Police said Potter, a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center Police Department, mistook her gun for her Taser when she shot Wright as he attempted to get back into his vehicle during an arrest. The shooting led to days of turbulent protests.

Other court filings by Potter's attorneys that were also made public Thursday provided additional insight into their posture in her case.

The defense filed a motion to compel prosecutors to disclose the Wright family's interest in pursuing a lawsuit against Potter and Brooklyn Center police, the prosecution's payments to their use-of-force expert who is expected to testify at trial, information about Wright's drug possession or use before he was killed, and reports or "opinions" about Wright's criminal history, including his "purported gang affiliation," among other requests.

In a 22-page memorandum responding to motions prosecutors filed Oct. 1, Potter's defense said it would call a use-of-force expert to explain how Potter mistook her gun for her Taser.

Defense attorneys plan to call Laurence Miller, a forensic and police psychologist based in Florida, to bolster their case. Prosecutors have filed a motion to exclude or limit testimony from Miller about the psychological aspects of alleged errors like Potter's. Prosecutors argued that his proffered testimony is "not relevant and would not be helpful to the jury."

"For Officer Potter, this was a singular and 'rare occurrence' … but a mistake did happen," Potter's attorneys wrote. "A subcategory of action errors are termed 'slip and capture errors,' which include cases of 'Taser/handgun confusion.' "

Miller, the defense wrote, will testify that a more common action, such as deploying a firearm, can override a less common action, such as deploying a Taser.

"Thus 'despite difference in size, shape, weight, color, and position of these two weapons, the time pressure and intense focus on a deadly threat predisposes the brain to the perceptual-cognitive "slip" that allows the prepotent response to "capture" and carry out the more overlearned but currently unintended action,' " the attorneys wrote in quoting Miller's findings.

The defense argued that Wright attempted to flee and was a safety threat to officers at the scene, including one of Potter's colleagues who they said "might well have been dragged to his death."

They noted that Potter has had about 520 hours of training to use her work-issued handgun, which she hadn't fired on the job until she killed Wright, and about 50 hours of training to use her Taser since it came into use about 10 years earlier.

"We are not offering Dr. Miller's opinion on the issue of Officer Potter's conscious intentions," the defense wrote. "He is being called to explain a phenomenon that happens in police work. Whether slip and capture may have caused Officer Potter's mistake he can't say; that question is for the jury to decide."

Katie Wright, the mother of Daunte Wright, said Thursday evening that the family would have no comment on the defense strategy.

Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708

Twitter: @ChaoStrib

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