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Kim Potter gives tearful testimony in manslaughter trial

The former Brooklyn Center cop said she wouldn't have stopped Daunte Wright if she hadn't been training another officer.

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — Defense attorneys for former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter rested their case Friday after their client delivered tense testimony about her career and the shooting of Daunte Wright in a Twin Cities suburb this spring. 

Potter is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Wright, a 20-year-old Black man she shot during a traffic stop in April. A 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center Police Department, Potter has maintained since the shooting that she had intended to use her Taser, a rationale apparently backed up by body camera footage. 

The former officer’s defense attorneys backed up the witness who preceded her, psychologist Laurence Miller. Miller discussed “slip and capture” errors, focused on the ease with which an officer could make that mistake. Prosecutors, meanwhile, emphasized its severity.

Potter testified to major gaps in her memory of the incident, particularly the moments just after she shot Wright. She also described the moment she fired the shot as “chaos,” but remembered few details when questioned.

“I remember yelling ‘Taser, Taser, Taser,’ and nothing happened,” she said on direct examination by attorney Earl Gray, “and then he told me I shot him.” Defense experts have previously pointed to trauma as a possible cause of memory loss. 

Defense attorneys also asked Potter about the traffic stop itself, which her trainee Andrew Luckey said he initiated after seeing Wright, in a vehicle with expired tags and an air freshener illegally hanging on the rearview mirror, use the wrong turn signal. Potter said that had she not been with a trainee, she likely wouldn’t have made the stop. 

“An air freshener to me, it’s just an equipment violation. And during the Covid times, the high Covid times, the Department of Motor Vehicles was so behind that a lot of people weren’t getting tags,” she said. 

She also said that while she wasn’t unduly concerned about the possibility of finding a gun in Wright’s vehicle, she was aware of it. 

Gray also asked Potter about the things she said immediately after shooting Wright, including “I’m going to prison.” She said she didn’t remember that. Gray followed up with another question: “Was the climate back then around police officers a little rough?”

Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu quickly sustained an objection to that question. Potter’s shooting of Wright occurred in the midst of the Derek Chauvin trial, and led to renewed protests in Brooklyn Center and elsewhere in the already-tense Twin Cities metro. Potter resigned the day after the shooting. She told Gray in court that “there was so much bad things happening…. I didn’t want my co-workers – I didn’t want anything bad to happen to the city.”

Potter also discussed selling her home in the Minneapolis suburb of Champlin and moving out of state. It wasn’t discussed in court, but Potter’s address was posted to social media shortly after the shooting. 

She teared up frequently on the stand, and her increasing sobs led Chu to cut cross-examination short for a lunch break. Prosecutors asked Potter extensively about her training and were met largely with one-word answers. They also focused heavily on Potter’s testimony that she had not deployed her Taser at any point in her 26-year-career, along with documents indicating that she hadn’t done required pre-shift checks of the weapon on several of the days preceding the shooting. 

In one incident, Potter confirmed, she declined to deploy a brandished Taser for fear of hitting another officer. Prosecutors have pushed to show that Potter’s conduct, even if she had used a Taser, was reckless because she could have struck fellow officer Sergeant Mychal Johnson or caused Wright to accelerate the vehicle he was in when hit. Wright did so, causing a crash, when Potter shot him and he fell into the driver’s seat. 

After a lunch break, prosecutor Erin Eldridge got still more probative with Potter. After she shot Wright, Eldridge asked, “you didn’t behave like someone who had just saved Sergeant Johnson’s life, did you?”

“I was distraught,” Potter replied. “I had just shot somebody. I’d never done that.”

“When Sergeant Johnson fed you the line ‘he was trying to take off with me,’ you didn’t bite, did you?” Eldridge continued. “You didn’t run down the street and try to save Daunte Wright’s life, did you?”

“You were focused on what you had done. Because you had just killed somebody,” Eldridge said.

“I’m sorry it happened,” Potter said, putting her head in her hands. On further questioning, she said she didn’t want to use deadly force. Rather than admitting to Eldridge’s contention that she knew that deadly force was unreasonable, she simply replied, “I didn’t want to hurt anybody.” 

On redirect, Gray emphasized that Potter had never shot her gun or Taser before in the field, but that she still would not have allowed Wright to leave.

“You’ve got no valid information, you’ve got a temporary restraining order, you’ve got marijuana smelled by your partner. You’ve got no license, no insurance. Would you let that car go?” he asked.

“No,” Potter replied. 

Gray’s questioning was followed by a further cross by Eldridge, who focused on Potter’s relationship with her “police family,” whom she told Miller she had resigned to protect. Potter said she didn’t remember saying that. 

After Potter left the stand, the defense rested its case. With no rebuttal from prosecutors, Chu sent the jury out for the weekend and told attorneys they would discuss jury instructions later in the afternoon. 

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