Minnesota officer who shot Black man after traffic stop charged with manslaughter

Minnesota officer who shot Black man after traffic stop charged with manslaughter
Minnesota officer who shot Black man after traffic stop charged with manslaughter

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Kim Potter poses for a booking photograph at Hennepin County Jail for fatally shooting 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop, in Minneapolis, Minnesota April 14, 2021. ― Handout via Reuters

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MINNEAPOLIS, April 15 ― The white suburban police officer who fatally shot a young Black motorist during a traffic stop in Minnesota, igniting three nights of civil unrest, was charged with manslaughter yesterday, a day after the officer turned in her badge.

Daunte Wright, 20, was pulled over on Sunday in Brooklyn Center, just outside Minneapolis, for what police said was an expired vehicle registration, then struggled with police and was shot to death by officer Kimberly Potter, 48, who drew her handgun instead of a Taser in what officials called an accident.

The shooting escalated tensions in a region already on edge over the ongoing trial of the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in the use of deadly force last May against George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man who was suspected of passing a bogus US$20 (RM82.46) bill.

Potter, a 26-year department veteran, was taken into custody by agents of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension at the agency's office in nearby St. Paul, authorities said.

She was charged with second-degree manslaughter and booked into Hennepin County jail without bond, jail records said.

Protesters assembled outside Brooklyn Center police headquarters for a third night on Tuesday, some throwing bottles and other projectiles over a fence surrounding the building. Officers fired tear gas, non-lethal rounds and flash-bang rounds, to disperse the crowd.

Responding to criticism that law enforcement overreacted to a small-scale provocation two hours before a city curfew took effect, Mayor Mike Elliott said the local sheriff's office, rather than city police, oversaw crowd-control operations on Tuesday night.

“Gassing, in my opinion, is not a humane way of policing,” Elliott told reporters on Wednesday. He also urged demonstrators to remain peaceful, saying: “The eyes of the world are on Brooklyn Center.”

Elliott later joined a small gathering of Wright's relatives and supporters at a newly erected memorial, featuring a wooden sculpture of a clenched fist, near the spot where Wright was slain.

Gun vs Taser

To convict Potter of second-degree manslaughter under Minnesota law, prosecutors must show that she was “culpably negligent” and took an “unreasonable risk” in her actions against Wright. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a US$20,000 fine.

In a police video of the shooting, Potter shouts: “Taser, Taser, Taser!” as she draws her weapon and opens fire on Wright in his car after he had just pulled away from a fellow officer, then she is heard to say: “Holy shit, I just shot him.”

City Police Chief Jim Gannon, who also resigned on Tuesday, has said the shooting appeared to have been accidental.

The Washington County Attorney's Office, which brought the case, said Potter was acting as her partner's field training officer at the time of the shooting.

“Certain occupations carry an immense responsibility and none more so than a sworn police officer,” Imran Ali, head of the county attorney's major crimes unit, said in a statement.

Prosecutors will seek to prove that Potter “abrogated her responsibility to protect the public when she used her firearm rather than her Taser,” he said. “Her action caused the unlawful killing of Mr. Wright, and she must be held accountable.”

Potter's handgun and Taser were holstered on opposite sides of her belt in such a way that she would have had to use her left hand to draw the electric-stun device, the county attorney's office said. Instead, she pulled her Glock 9mm pistol with her right hand.

The prosecutors also said Potter's partner officer, Anthony Luckey, had determined after stopping Wright that he had an outstanding warrant for a “gross misdemeanor weapons charge.”

‘This was no accident’

Wright died of a single gunshot wound to the chest, the coroner concluded in an autopsy that ruled the case a homicide.

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, representing Wright's family, said the case brought against Potter fell short of fulfilling a greater need for police reform in the United States.

“This was no accident. This was an intentional, deliberate, and unlawful use of force,” Crump said in a statement. “Driving while Black continues to result in a death sentence.”

The shooting has renewed criticism of discretionary vehicle stops for minor traffic violations, in which police officers have legal leeway to act on racial bias, civil rights advocates say.

It has also drawn attention to potential issues with the use of Tasers by police officers, with some experts saying problems persist with training and the weapon's design.

Potter is at least the third US law enforcement officer to face charges after claiming they mistakenly killed someone with a gun when they meant to use a Taser.

Wright was killed just miles from the Minneapolis courthouse where the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former policeman charged with murdering Floyd last May, is taking place.

Floyd, who died in handcuffs with his neck pinned to the street under Chauvin's knee, became the face of a national movement against racial injustice and police brutality as protests against his killing swept the United States last year in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. ― Reuters

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