Minnesota officer who shot Black man meant to draw Taser, not handgun, police chief says

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Kurtis Lee, Tania Ganguli
·7 min read
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BROOKLYN CENTER, MN - APRIL 12: Katie Wright (L), the mother of Daunte Wright, is embraced during a vigil for her son on April 12, 2021 in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. Wright was shot and killed yesterday by Brooklyn Center police during a traffic stop. (Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images)
Katie Wright, left, mother of Daunte Wright, is embraced during a vigil for her son Monday in Brooklyn Center, Minn. Wright was shot and killed Sunday by police during a traffic stop. (Stephen Maturen / Getty Images)

The police shooting of a Black man in a Minneapolis suburb — a short drive from the courthouse where a former Minneapolis police officer is on trial, accused of murdering George Floyd — further devastated a community already facing persistent headlines about police brutality.

On Monday, the police chief of Brooklyn Center, Minn., north of Minneapolis, said the officer who shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop the day before may have intended to use a Taser, not a firearm.

“It is my belief that the officer had their intention to deploy the Taser but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet,” said Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon, adding that he believes this was an “accidental discharge.” The officer, Kim Potter, has been placed on administrative leave.

The shooting of Wright yet again ignited tensions in Minneapolis and a nation torn and rising in the streets in a call for racial justice and an end to police brutality.

Residents and activists quickly pushed back on police, calling for justice for Wright, who was unarmed, officials said.

“Daunte Wright is yet another young Black man killed at the hands of those who have sworn to protect and serve all of us — not just the whitest among us," Benjamin Crump, a civil rights attorney representing the Wright family, said. "What will it take for law enforcement to stop killing people of color? The growing number of Black men and women who have been killed or harmed by police is far too hefty a price for the equality we are seeking."

NAACP President and Chief Executive Derrick Johnson said Wright was killed "just north of where George Floyd was suffocated less than a year ago. Both were fathers, both were Black men, both died at the hands of police.

"Whether it be carelessness and negligence, or a blatant modern-day lynching, the result is the same. Another Black man has died at the hands of police," Johnson said.

During a press conference Monday, Gannon played a videoclip from Potter's body camera. The video shows police attempting to arrest Wright because of an outstanding warrant. Wright breaks free from the officers, hops back into his car and drives off after the officer fires. What appears to be a woman’s voice shouts, “Taser, Taser, Taser,” before a gun is fired.

Potter was identified by Gannon as a female officer with a high level of seniority on the force.

eople react after viewing the body camera footage of the killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright
People react after viewing body-camera footage of the killing of Daunte Wright, played during a press conference Monday at the Brooklyn Center Police headquarters. Police Chief Tim Gannon referred to the incident as an "accidental discharge" and said the officer who shot Wright meant to grab a Taser. (Stephen Maturen / Getty Images)

Outside the police department headquarters on Monday, state troopers, local police and National Guardsmen lined up wearing helmets and face shields, holding batons.

People drove by honking support at the handful of protesters across the street, or yelling toward the officers. One man leaned out of the passenger seat of an orange Mustang for several seconds as it drove past the officers, repeatedly saying, "All Black lives matter."

“I am a mother,” activist Nelima Sitati Munene said. “I have a son who’s about the same age as Daunte who drives in the Twin Cities every day. That could easily have been my son. I don’t know if my son is exempt from that treatment. The continuous actions of our police departments do not give me the confidence that my son or myself are exempt from those actions.”

Late Monday, after a regional 7 p.m. curfew was in effect, hundreds of protesters remained on the streets around the area where Wright died. Police officers deployed tear gas in an effort to clear the area. Only a few dozen protesters remained by late Monday, the Associated Press reported, and 40 people were arrested, Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matt Langer told reporters early Tuesday.

Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott said he believes the officer who shot Wright should be fired. Activists at the press conference pressed Gannon and Brooklyn Center City Manager Curt Boganey to make a similar declaration, but they refused, citing an investigation. Elliott tweeted Monday night that Boganey had been fired.

Elliott spoke with President Biden on Monday about the events unfolding here.

"I think we got to wait and see what the investigation shows — and the entire investigation," Biden said from the Oval Office.

Biden said he watched the "fairly graphic" body-camera footage from the officer who killed Wright.

People watch as the body camera footage of the killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright
Body-camera footage of the killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright is played during a press conference at the Brooklyn Center Police headquarters. (Stephen Maturen / Getty Images)

"The question is: Was it an accident? Was it intentional? That remains to be determined by a full-blown investigation."

Biden then stressed that there is “absolutely no justification" for violence in protest or otherwise.

"Peaceful protest, understandable. And the fact is that, you know, we do know that the anger, pain and trauma that exists in the Black community in that environment is real, it's serious, and it's consequential. But it will not justify violence."

Some critics said Gannon's comment that the officer meant to grab a Taser was not reasonable.

"It doesn’t stand to reason, because officers carry their service weapons on the same side as their dominant hand," Los Angeles civil rights attorney DeWitt Lacy said. "If you’re right-handed, your gun is on your right hip. You carry your Taser on the opposite hip. You practice pulling out your firearm, and you practice pulling out your Taser, so ostensibly the muscle memory would be on her left side.

“It’s too early to say why that happened, but if it truly was a mistake, that’s criminal negligence, and she should be charged," Lacy added.

The shooting of Wright is only the latest incident in which a Black motorist was killed by a police officer in the area. In a nearby suburb in 2016, Philando Castile, who had a licensed firearm, was killed by police during a traffic stop after he let an officer know that he had a legal weapon.

In downtown Minneapolis on Monday, the third week of testimony in the Derek Chauvin trial began in which the former officer is charged with the murder and manslaughter of Floyd. Barricades lined several streets as members of the National Guard stood outside the courthouse.

A defense attorney for Chauvin requested that, because of the shooting in Brooklyn Center, jurors in the case be sequestered. Judge Peter Cahill denied the request, and the trial proceeded Monday, with prosecutors calling a cardiologist to the stand who said Floyd died as a result of use of force by police.

It was also the first time a relative of Floyd offered testimony. Philonise Floyd said George was the ideal big brother.

"He was so much of a leader to us in the household. He would always make sure that we had our clothes for school," Philonise said. "He made sure that we all were going to be to school on time. And like I told you, George couldn't cook. But he will make sure you have a snack or something to get in the morning. But he — he was one of those people in the community that when they had church outside, people would attend church just because he was there."

Lee reported from Los Angeles. Ganguli, a special correspondent, reported from Brooklyn Center. Times staff writer Chris Megerian in Washington contributed to this report.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.