Police chief says officer who fatally shot Black man in Minneapolis suburb apparently meant to use Taser
Officer has been identified as Kim Potter, a 26-year veteran of the force
The police officer who fatally shot a Black man during a traffic stop in a Minneapolis suburb apparently intended to fire a Taser, not a handgun, as the man struggled with police, the city's police chief said Monday, as police clashed with protesters for the second night in a row.
Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon described the shooting death Sunday of 20-year-old Daunte Wright as "an accidental discharge." It happened as police were trying to arrest Wright on an outstanding warrant. The shooting sparked protests and unrest in a metropolitan area already on edge because of the trial of the first of four police officers charged in George Floyd's death.
"I'll Tase you! I'll Tase you! Taser! Taser! Taser!" the officer is heard shouting on her body cam footage, released at a news conference.
She draws her weapon after the man breaks free from police outside his car and gets back behind the wheel.
After firing a single shot from her handgun, the car speeds away and the officer is heard saying, "Holy shit! I shot him."
The man, identified by relatives as 20-year-old Daunte Wright, died Sunday in Brooklyn Center, a city of about 30,000 people on the northwest border of Minneapolis.
WATCH | This police body cam video shows the moments before the shooting of Daunte Wright. CBC News has edited the video to freeze before Wright is shot, but the audio continues:
The officer was identified by Minnesota's Department of Public Safety on Monday evening as Kim Potter, a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center Police Department.
She has been placed on administrative leave, Gannon told reporters earlier in the day, but he would not say whether she would be fired following the investigation.
"I think we can watch the video and ascertain whether she will be returning," the chief said.
Wright's death on Sunday sparked violent protests, with officers in riot gear clashing with demonstrators into Monday morning.
"This appears to me, from what I viewed and the officers' reaction and distress immediately after, that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Wright," Gannon told reporters.
Family speaks about their loss
A female passenger sustained non-life-threatening injuries during the crash, authorities said. Wright's mother, Katie Wright, said that passenger was her son's girlfriend.
She said her son called her as he was getting pulled over. She said she heard scuffling and then someone saying "Daunte, don't run" before the call ended. When she called back, her son's girlfriend answered and said he had been shot.
His brother, Dallas Bryant, told about 100 people gathered for a candlelight vigil Monday evening that Wright sounded scared during the phone call, and questioned how the officer could accidentally reach for a gun instead of a Taser.
"You know the difference between plastic and metal. We all know it," he said.
Other family members described him as a good-natured father who worked multiple jobs to support his two-year-old son. They rejected the notion that an accidental shooting was to blame for his death on Sunday.
"My brother lost his life because they were trigger happy," Dallas Wright said.
"My heart is broken in a thousand pieces … I miss him so much, and it's only been a day," Daunte Wright's mother, Katie Wright, said as she wept. "He was my life, he was my son and I can never get that back. Because of a mistake? Because of an accident?"
Protesters defy curfew
The governor instituted another dusk-to-dawn curfew, but hundreds of people gathered outside the Brooklyn Center police station Monday night, separated from dozens of officers by a chain-link fence, well past the 7 p.m. local time deadline. A drum beat incessantly, and the crowd broke into frequent chants of "Daunte Wright!" Some shouted obscenities at officers.
About 90 minutes after the curfew deadline, police began firing gas canisters and flash-bang grenades, sending clouds wafting over the crowd and chasing some away. Some protesters picked up smoke canisters and threw them back toward police. Others shot fireworks toward police lines. A long line of police in riot gear, rhythmically pushing their clubs in front of them, began slowly forcing back the remaining crowds.
By 10 p.m., only a few dozen protesters remained.
Law enforcement agencies stepped up their presence across the Minneapolis area. The number of Minnesota National Guard troops was expected to more than double to over 1,000 by Monday night.
U.S. President Joe Biden urged calm earlier Monday, following a night where officers in riot gear clashed with demonstrators. The president said he watched the body camera footage.
"We do know that the anger pain and trauma amidst the Black community is real," Biden said from the Oval Office. But, he said, that "does not justify violence and looting."
Gannon said at the news conference that the officer made a mistake, and he released the body camera footage less than 24 hours after the shooting.
The footage shows three officers around a stopped car, which authorities said was pulled over because it had expired registration tags. When another officer attempts to handcuff Wright, a second officer tells Wright he is being arrested on a warrant. That's when the struggle begins, followed by the shooting. Then the car travels several blocks before striking another vehicle.
"As I watch the video and listen to the officer's command, it is my belief that the officer had the intention to deploy their Taser but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet," Gannon said.
"This appears to me from what I viewed and the officer's reaction in distress immediately after that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Wright."
Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott called the shooting "deeply tragic" and said the officer should be fired.
"We cannot afford to make mistakes that lead to the loss of life of other people," he said. "We're going to do everything we can to ensure that justice is done and our communities are made whole."
Elliott later announced that the city council had voted to give his office "command authority" over the police department.
Organizers from the Movement for Black Lives, a national coalition of more than 150 Black-led political and advocacy groups, pointed to Wright's killing as yet another reason why cities must take up proposals for defunding an "irreparably broken, racist system."
Wright "should not have had his life ripped from him last night. The fact that police killed him just miles from where they murdered George Floyd last year is a slap in the face to an entire community who continues to grieve," said Karissa Lewis, the coalition's national field director.
Wright died of a gunshot wound to the chest "and manner of death is homicide," the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's office said in a statement.
The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said any decision on charges against the officer will be made by the Washington County attorney under an agreement adopted last year by several county prosecutors aimed at avoiding conflicts of interest. Freeman has been frequently criticized by activists in Minneapolis over his charging decisions involving deadly use of force by police.
Court records show Wright was being 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. In that case, a statement of probable cause said police got a call about a man waving a gun who was later identified as Wright."
Wright's family hired civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represented the Floyd family in its $27 million US settlement with the City of Minneapolis.
"This level of lethal force was entirely preventable and inhumane," Crump said in a statement. "What will it take for law enforcement to stop killing people of colour?"
Speaking before the unrest Sunday night, Wright's mother urged protesters in Brooklyn Center, a city of about 30,000 people on the northwest border of Minneapolis, to stay peaceful and focused on the loss of her son.
Biden referred to her comments on Monday, saying "we should listen to Daunte's mom calling for peace and calm." The president said he had not yet called the family but that his prayers were with them.
The governor warned those who choose to "exploit these tragedies" with violence "can rest assured that the largest police presence in Minnesota history" will be prepared to arrest law breakers.
The Minnesota Wild, Minnesota Twins and Minnesota Timberwolves postponed games scheduled for Monday because of safety concerns.
Shortly after the shooting, demonstrators began to gather, with some jumping atop police cars. Marchers also descended on the Brooklyn Center Police Department, where rocks and other objects were thrown at officers, authorities said.
About 20 businesses were broken into at the city's Shingle Creek shopping centre, Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said at a news conference.
National Guard troops and law enforcement officers continued to guard the front of the police department on Monday morning. Police were erecting a concrete barrier as Minnesota State Patrol officers joined the line in front of the precinct.
The trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis officer charged in George Floyd's death, continued Monday. Floyd, a Black man, died May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd's neck. Prosecutors say Floyd was pinned for nine minutes, 29 seconds. The judge in that case refused Monday to sequester the jury after a defence attorney argued that the panel could be influenced by the prospect of what might happen as a result of their verdict.
With files from Reuters