Minnesota AG Takes Over Daunte Wright Case

Attorney General Keith Ellison’s entry into a suburban police shooting case mirrors his takeover of Derek Chauvin’s prosecution, but no new charges have been announced.

Katie and Arbuey Wright, parents of Daunte Wright, cry as they speak during their son’s funeral service at Shiloh Temple International Ministries in Minneapolis on April 22, 2021. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, Pool)

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office announced Friday it has taken over the prosecution of Kimberly Potter, the white former police officer who shot and killed Daunte Wright, an unarmed Black man, last month.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank, who has been the face of the prosecution in the cases against Derek Chauvin and three colleagues for the murder of George Floyd is now taking a major role in Potter’s case as well. 

“Daunte Wright’s death was a tragedy. He should not have died on the day that he did. He should not have died the way that he did. His parents, brothers, sisters, and friends must now live the rest of their lives without him. His son, only two years old, will grow up without his father,” Attorney General Keith Ellison said in a statement. “I have privately expressed my condolences and sorrow to the family and expect to work with them closely throughout the proceedings.”

Ellison took on the prosecution at the request of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, the statement said. Freeman had himself recently taken the case back from Washington County Attorney Mike Orput after Orput charged Potter with second-degree manslaughter as part of an agreement forged last summer between five Twin Cities metro county attorneys to take on each other’s police prosecutions. 

Activists have pushed for stiffer charges against Potter, including by protesting at Orput’s home in the eastern Minnesota city of Stillwater throughout late April. When Chauvin’s case was turned over to Ellison’s office last June, the attorney general announced new charges against the former Minneapolis police officer and his onetime colleagues Tou Thao, Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng.

In Friday’s statement, the AG’s office did not announce any new charges against Potter but said that prosecutors were “reviewing the evidence and charges laid against Ms. Potter.” 

“I did not seek this prosecution and do not accept it lightly. I have had, and continue to have, confidence in how both County Attorney Orput and County Attorney Freeman have handled this case to date,” Ellison said in the statement. “I appreciate their partnership as my office takes the lead on this case.”

Potter, a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center Police Department and president of the northern Minneapolis suburb’s police union, fatally shot Wright during a traffic stop on April 11. Potter is shown on body camera footage shouting “Taser, Taser, Taser” before shooting Wright in the torso with her firearm. Police said Wright, who had a warrant for misdemeanor firearm charges, was resisting arrest and that Potter had genuinely believed she was holding her Taser. 

Potter is represented by defense attorney Earl Gray, who is also representing Lane in a state court case for aiding and abetting second-degree murder in Floyd’s death. Gray did not respond to a request for comment early Wednesday afternoon.

Potter was arrested April 14, days after she resigned from the police department. She was released on bail the following day. Judge Regina Chu has tentatively scheduled Potter’s trial for Dec. 6. 

Local activists against police brutality have expressed skepticism of the alleged gun-Taser mix-up, and with Chauvin’s trial approaching its conclusion, the shooting brought renewed protests to a Twin Cities Metro already on red alert. Saturated with National Guard and police officers from around the nation, Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center saw several nights of confrontations between protesters and police, primarily at and around the Brooklyn Center Police Department headquarters. 

The incident has also led to rapid changes for the department: the Brooklyn Center City Council recently passed a collection of reforms, including a requirement that officers issue citations for non-moving traffic violations and non-felony offenses and warrants by mail rather than arrests, unless otherwise required by law. Those reforms also established a new oversight committee for the police department and a separate, unarmed civilian department to handle traffic enforcement.  Police Chief Tim Gannon also resigned his position on April 14. 

Ellison also called for statewide police reforms in Friday’s statement, which have been slower to materialize. Minnesota’s Republican-led Senate has opposed the majority of proposals on the topic by the Democrat-majority House of Representatives, though Democratic Farmer Labor Party leaders have expressed optimism about a couple of traffic stop-related provisions. The state also banned chokeholds and “warrior”-style training and made changes to arbitration processes for officer discipline shortly after Floyd’s death last May. 

Ellison’s press release also quoted Democratic Governor Tim Walz, who expressed his support.

“I am glad that Attorney General Ellison is taking the case,” he said, mentioning that he and First Lady Gwen Walz had hosted the Wright family at the governor’s mansion earlier in the week. “We heard their desire to have the strongest legal team possible to bring their family justice. No verdict will bring Daunte back to his family, but I have full faith that Attorney General Ellison will build the best team possible to pursue accountability for what happened that tragic day.”

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