BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. – The police officer who fatally shot a 20-year-old Black man during a traffic stop may have intended to fire a Taser, the city's police chief said Monday.
The department released dramatic bodycam footage of the incident, which has rocked the Minneapolis suburb miles from where George Floyd was killed during a police arrest last May.
Daunte Wright was shot once and died after the traffic stop Sunday, Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon said. The body camera footage released during a news conference shows two other officers approaching Wright's car and the officer who fired the shot standing behind them.
As the officer on the driver side of the vehicle began to handcuff Wright, he broke free, a struggle ensued, and Wright jumped back into the driver's seat. An officer threatened to tase him, shouting, "Taser!" at least three times before shooting Wright, then saying, "Oh (expletive), I just shot him."
The car drove away, traveling several blocks before hitting another vehicle.
"It is my belief that the officer had the intention to deploy their Taser but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet," said Gannon, who declined to provide details about the officer other than to describe her as "very senior.'' She has been placed on administrative leave.
The Hennepin Medical Examiner said Monday evening that Wright had died of a gunshot wound to the chest and classified his death as a homicide.
During the news conference, community members watching from the lobby of the Police Department headquarters expressed their anger as others protested outside. Later, more than 100 protesters chanted Wright’s name while dozens of officers in riot gear and troops guarded the police station.
In a statement, NAACP National President Derrick Johnson said Wright "should be alive today."
"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.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz imposed a curfew from 7 p.m. Monday until 6 a.m. Tuesday for three counties that include Brooklyn Center, Minneapolis and the capital of St. Paul. Minnesota National Guard troops were expected to double in number to more than 1,000, and other state law enforcement personnel were also called in to patrol around the Twin Cities.
President Joe Biden said he watched the body camera footage, and he appealed for calm.
“We do know that the anger, pain and trauma amid the Black community is real,” Biden said from the Oval Office. But, he added, that “does not justify violence and looting.”
Police in riot gear responded to protests Sunday as demonstrators gathered in Brooklyn Center, mourning Wright's death. Video posted to Twitter showed police firing gas and a chemical agent at protesters at the police department Sunday night.
“This is the wrong time for another Black man to get killed by the police," said Dez Odoms, 30, whose apartment is near the police station. Odoms said tear gas was fired at his apartment as he watched the protests unfold. "It’s sad. This city’s crazy, man."
Jonathan Mason, a community activist in Minnesota, called Wright's killing "murder" and an example of white supremacy. Police have not said the race of the officer who shot Wright, although the video of the incident suggests she is white.
"Who’s going to stand up for our ancestors who built this land but are still kept down?" Mason said.
Police chief says initial stop was for expired registration
Gannon said officers stopped Wright around 2 p.m. Sunday because the car had an expired registration. When officers went back to their vehicle and looked up Wright's information, they saw an outstanding warrant, which prompted the arrest, Gannon said. The struggle began when one of the officers informed Wright he was being arrested on the warrant.
The Associated Press, citing court records, reported that Wright was sought after failing 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.
Gannon said officers are trained to carry their firearms on the dominant side of their body and their Taser on the other side. He said seeing the video led him to believe "this was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Wright."
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating the incident. In a statement to USA TODAY Monday, Jill Oliveira, a public information officer for the state Department of Public Safety, said the BCA was "in the very early stages of its investigation."
Gannon said releasing the bodycam footage was his decision. "I felt the community needed to know what happened, they needed to see it. I needed to be transparent."
The officer was placed on administrative leave, and Gannon said it was too soon to say whether she would face charges.
Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott said he believed the officer should be fired.
"We cannot afford to make mistakes that lead to the loss of life of other people in our profession," Elliott said.
City Manager Curt Boganey expressed opposition to dismissing the officer, saying she deserves "due process.'' Later in the day, Elliott announced via Twitter that Boganey has been fired and his duties would be handled by the deputy city manager.
Elliott also said the city council voted to give his office “command authority” over the police department. Under the city’s charter, the city manager has control of the police department.
'Heartbreaking and unfathomable;' Wright's mother says she spoke on phone with her son
Elliott called Wright's death "heartbreaking and unfathomable,'' adding that it "couldn't happen at a worse time. ... We are collectively devastated, and we have been for over a year now over the killing of George Floyd."
Wright's mother, Katie Wright, said her son was driving a vehicle the family had given him weeks ago and called her as he was being pulled over with his girlfriend in the car, The New York Times reported.
“He called me at about 1:40, said he was getting pulled over by the police,” she said in a Facebook Live video. “He said they pulled him over because he had air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror.”
As she spoke with her son during the traffic stop, Katie Wright told him to give the phone to officers so she could tell them insurance information, The New York Times reported.
“Then I heard the police officer come to the window and say, ‘Put the phone down and get out of the car,’” she said, according to the Times.
Wright told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that she heard a scuffle during the call and someone said, "Daunte, don't run." The call ended, and when she called back, Wright's girlfriend told his mother he had been shot, the Star-Tribune reported.
Aubrey Wright told The Washington Post that his son was driving to get a car wash when he was shot.
Wright said he was at a grocery store when his wife called him to tell him their son had been shot. He told the Post he arrived at the scene within 10 minutes and saw his son's 2011 Buick LaCrosse partially destroyed and his body on the ground with a sheet over it.
“I know my son. He was scared. He still (had) the mind of a 17-year-old because we babied him,” Wright told the Post.
Daunte Wright had a 2-year-old, his father told the newspaper. He said Daunte dropped out of high school because of a learning disability but worked various retail and restaurant jobs to support his son.
“He was a great kid,” Wright told the Post. “He was a normal kid. He was never in serious trouble. He enjoyed spending time with his 2-year-old son. He loved his son.”
In a tweet Monday, civil rights activist Al Sharpton said he had spoken with Wright's father and said his group, the National Action Network, "will stand w/ this family and demand justice in this matter."
The shooting comes after two other cases in which Brooklyn Center police shot or tased someone who died.
In 2019, an autistic man, Kobe Dimock-Heisler, 21, was fatally shot during a scuffle with police. KARE-TV reported officers had first tried to tase Dimock-Heisler, who grabbed a knife from a couch cushion before police shot him. No charges were filed against the officers in the case.
In 2015, a St. Paul man died days after he was tased by a police officer and hit his head. The Star-Tribune reported Sinthanouxay Khottavongsa, 57, was holding a crowbar, and police responding to a report of a fight told him to drop it before tasing him. Khottavongsa hit his head as he fell and died from the injuries, the newspaper reported.
Contributing: The Associated Press
At 38th and Chicago, community members are painting "Justice for Duante Wright" in the street next to George Floyd's memorial. pic.twitter.com/yvmL129ChR
— Ben Hovland (@benjovland) April 12, 2021
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Daunte Wright police shooting: Body-cam; Taser; Brooklyn Center