Opening statements made in trial of Kimberly Potter, ex-cop who killed Daunte Wright

The prosecution and the defense on Wednesday made their opening statements in the manslaughter trial of Kimberly Potter, the former Minnesota police officer who said she mistook her gun for a Taser when she killed Daunte Wright during a traffic stop.

Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Erin Eldridge emphasized to the jury that officers take an oath “to protect life, not to take life,” and the prosecution played video of the fatal April encounter.

The video clip showed Potter, with her gun drawn, warning Wright multiple times as he is getting back into the driver’s seat of his car that she is going to “tase” him. She then pulls the trigger.

After Potter appears to realize she shot Wright with her gun — not her Taser — the officer says, “Sh*t, I just shot him … I grabbed the wrong f**king gun. I shot him.”

The former Brooklyn Center police officer put her hands to her head and fell to the ground.

“There is no do-over when you take a young man’s life,” Eldridge said. “We trust them to know wrong from right, and left from right” — a reference to Tasers and guns being holstered on opposite sides of an officer’s body.

Defense attorney Paul Engh said in his opening statement all Wright “had to do was surrender.” Engh centered on Potter attempting to use a Taser on Wright in order to protect her partner, Sgt. Mychal Johnson, because he was inside Wright’s car and would be injured if Wright drove off.

“All he has to do is stop and he’d be with us,” Engh said of Wright.

“She realizes what has happened much to her everlasting and unending regret,” Engh said of the moment Potter realized she fired her gun instead of her Taser. “She made a mistake. This was an accident. She is a human being, but she had to do what she had to do to prevent a death to a fellow officer, too.”

Engh concluded his opening statement saying Potter’s “good name has been besmirched by this allegation, which is not true, and by the press coverage, which has been slanted.”

“We seek to reclaim it and reclaim it we will,” Engh said.

Wright’s mother was the first witness to take the stand Wednesday.

Defendant is expected to testify

Potter has pleaded not guilty to charges of first- and second-degree manslaughter. If convicted, she faces at least a decade in prison.

Potter, 49, is expected to testify in her own defense during the trial. The female passenger in Wright’s car is also expected to testify.

The jury includes seven White men, four White women, two Asian women, and one Black woman. No Black men were selected for the jury.

The trial is taking place in the same courtroom where former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder in the death of George Floyd. But a different judge — Hennepin County Judge Regina M. Chu — is presiding over Potter’s trial.

Wright’s death prompted several days of protests in the Minneapolis suburb. It rocked a metropolitan area scarred by other police-involved deaths and reignited national conversations about policing and the use of force against people of color.

Wright, the 20-year-old son of a Black father and a White mother, was also the father of a toddler.

Wright’s mother has tearful testimony on stand

The first witness the prosecution called Wednesday was Wright’s mother, Katie Bryant, who gave emotional testimony.

She began by describing Wright and saying he was a great father to his son, Daunte Jr. Photos of Wright were shown to the jurors, including one in which the young father was wearing a hospital band, which allowed him to get into the neonatal intensive care unit to visit his premature baby.

“He would play with him. He would do everything that a father needs to do for his child. He was an amazing dad,” Bryant said through tears.

Bryant then described the events in April when her son was fatally shot. She gave Wright $50 for gas and a car wash that day, and soon after that he called her, saying police had pulled him over, she said.

Wright sounded nervous, Bryant said, and asked whether he was in trouble. She told him he hadn’t done anything wrong and “reassured him that it would be OK.”

Bryant heard an officer tell her son to step out of the car before the call disconnected, she said. She called several more times before making a FaceTime call to Wright.

A woman answered the phone screaming, she said, saying her son had been shot.

“She faced the phone towards the driver’s seat. My son was laying there, he was unresponsive, and he looked dead,” Bryant said. “And then I heard somebody say ‘hang up the phone’ again and it disconnected again.”

Bryant said she called 911 to get the address of her son’s shooting. She was so distraught that a neighbor drove her to the scene, where she stayed for hours, refusing to leave until his body was removed, she said. She told jurors her son’s body was covered with a white sheet and she recognized him by his tennis shoes.

Eldridge, the prosecutor, played body camera video of Bryant running to officers. The officers told Bryant they weren’t on scene for the shooting and asked her to tell them what happened.

“It was the worst day of my life,” she said.

Bryant said she still has scars on the inside of her mouth from biting the insides of her cheeks so hard.

“I thought it was a dream and if I bit the insides of my cheeks then I would wake up. But I didn’t wake up,” she said.

During cross examination, Bryant told Engh she knew her son did not have a driver’s license. She said she did not know there was a warrant for Wright’s arrest and that he used marijuana.

What we know about the prosecution and defense

The lead prosecutor in the Chauvin trial, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank, is also prosecuting the Potter case.

Potter’s defense attorneys, Engh and Earl Gray, have previously represented police officers in closely watched cases.

Engh was an attorney for Jeronimo Yanez, the former St. Anthony, Minnesota, police officer who was found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter for the fatal shooting of Philando Castile.

Gray represents another ex-cop facing charges in connection with Floyd’s death and also served on Yanez’s legal team.

What happened the day of the shooting

Wright was driving on a Sunday afternoon when officers pulled him over for an expired tag, police said. The amended criminal complaint said Wright was also stopped because his car “had an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror.”

Officer Anthony Luckey, whom Potter was training at the time of the shooting, made the decision to pull Wright over after he signaled incorrectly, had expired license plate tabs and a tree-shaped air freshener hanging from his rearview window, Engh said, but “this case isn’t about tabs, it’s not about Christmas trees (air fresheners).”

During the stop, officers learned he had an outstanding warrant and they attempted to arrest him.

Video of the encounter showed a male officer approaching the car ahead of Potter, and a second officer on the passenger side. Potter said “have him step out,” and the male officer in front asks Wright to step out of the car.

Potter appeared to say “have him step out,” and another officer said “do me a favor” and “step out of the car,” according to the video.

An officer told Wright he was under arrest. Potter told Wright “you have a warrant.”

Wright struggled with an officer, stepped back into his car and was shot.

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