Former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter sobbed as she testified Friday about the moment she fatally shot Black motorist Daunte Wright after accidentally reaching for her handgun instead of her Taser.
“We were struggling. We were trying to keep him from driving away. It just went chaotic,” Potter told the court in her first public remarks on the deadly April 11 incident in suburban Minneapolis, which prompted days of protests in the city.
“I remember yelling ‘Taser! Taser! Taser!’ and nothing happened, and then he told me I shot him,” she said in tears.
“I’m sorry it happened. I’m so sorry,” she added. “I didn’t want to hurt anybody.”
Potter has been charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter over Wright’s death. To convict her, prosecutors must prove she acted with recklessness or culpable negligence when she defied years of training and mixed up the weapons.
Potter conceded to prosecutor Erin Eldridge that she did not see any weapon in Wright’s possession and that he never threatened or punched her or her fellow officers.
But she said she saw "a look of fear" on one of the officer’s faces when Wright tried to reenter his car and flee the scene as they attempted to arrest him.
“He had a look of fear on his face,” she said. “It was nothing I’d seen before.”
She also said that she was concerned there may have been a weapon in Wright’s vehicle after she learned upon pulling him over that he was wanted on a warrant for a gun charge — something her defense team raised as evidence it was a potentially dangerous situation that warranted her use of force.
Potter, a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center Police Department, was training a junior officer, Anthony Luckey, at the time of the incident. She told the court it had been Luckey who wanted to pull over Wright when he noticed the driver not properly using his turn signal, then saw the car had expired tags and an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror, a violation of state law.
Potter testified that had she been alone she would likely not have stopped Wright, saying that an air freshener was a minor violation and that people were having trouble updating their registrations at the DMV due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But when they discovered the weapons warrant, Potter said she and her fellow officers agreed there was greater danger in approaching the vehicle.
Eldridge, the prosecutor, quizzed Potter extensively on her many years of training both as an officer and using stun guns in an effort to establish that she should have been easily able to distinguish her Taser from her handgun even in situations of high stress.
At one point, Potter was shown two photographs of the weapons and asked to identify the differences in shape, color, and weight.
“These items look different, don't they?" Eldridge asked.
“Yes,” Potter responded.
Potter also said she had carried her firearm on her right side throughout her 26 years as an officer, while her Taser had been on her left since she first received one 19 years ago. But she said she had never discharged either weapon while on the job.
Eldridge also showed police dashcam footage in which Potter could be seen putting her hand on her gun holster on her right side even as she approached the vehicle.
Potter also agreed that as a field training officer she was expected to be very well aware of police training, use-of-force procedures, and pursuit policies.
The former officer was asked about comments made immediately after she fired the deadly shots in which she was recorded saying, “Oh, shit. I shot him. I grabbed the wrong fucking gun. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God. I’m going to prison."
Potter said she could not account for her actions, including her failure to check on her fellow officers, as she was in shock.
“I was very distraught,” she said. “I’d just shot someone. I’d never done that.”
She conceded she had a duty as a police officer to try to render aid to Wright, but she said she was too distressed.
“You didn’t run down the street and try to save Daunte Wright’s life, did you?” asked Eldridge.
“No,” Potter responded in tears.
Potter told the court that she resigned from her job to prevent “bad things happening to the city.” She has since sold her home and moved out of state.
Before Potter testified on Friday, her defense team called to the stand Laurence Miller, an expert in police psychology at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
Miller told the 12 jury members about the disputed concept of “slip and capture” or “action errors,” whereby a person’s reactions might be “hijacked” in times of stress and their memory of an old skill supersedes their memory of a new one.
”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,” he said.
Such an action error, Miller said, could lead to “weapon confusion.”
Potter was the final person to be called to the stand to give evidence. Closing arguments will begin Monday.