MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — Defense attorneys for Kim Potter, the white former police officer who shot and killed 20-year-old Black man Daunte Wright in a northern Twin Cities suburb in April, opened their case on Thursday with testimony from a use-of-force expert, Potter's former supervisors and friends in and out of law enforcement.
Among those was former Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon, who said he resigned his position in lieu of termination after he refused to fire Potter and drew criticism for his handling of civil unrest in the days after Wright's death.
Potter shot Wright once during a traffic stop on April 11, just after shouting “I’m gonna Tase ya! Taser, Taser, Taser!” Immediately after the shot, she can be heard on body camera footage saying that she grabbed the wrong gun, a contention she, Gannon and her attorneys have stuck to in the months following.
Gannon said he didn’t see any issue with Potter’s shooting of Wright when he reviewed body and dash camera footage.
“When I viewed both camera angles, and had all the information in front of me, I saw no violation,” he testified.
He said he felt that firing Potter in the days after Wright’s death wouldn’t have given her the opportunity to go through the department’s process for use-of-force investigations. Potter resigned two days after shooting Wright, saying that she believed it was “in the best interest of the community, the department, and my fellow officers.” Gannon followed suit later that day.
The former chief stood on his resignation as a defense of his credibility when defense attorney Earl Gray asked if he would lie under oath to help a friend.
“There’s a reason I’m an ex-chief,” he said. “Nobody gets me to do something or say something I don’t believe in. I wouldn’t lie for anyone.”
Potter herself is expected to testify in her own defense. Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu told jurors at the end of proceedings Thursday that the defense would bring just two more witnesses to the stand, so the former officer is expected to testify Friday.
Gannon was preceded on the stand by defense use-of-force expert Stephen Ijames of Springfield, Missouri. Ijames, a police officer who testifies frequently in police-force cases, said he was not being paid for his testimony, and made a policy of not taking pay for criminal cases. Ijames testified that should Wright have been allowed to enter his car and put it in drive, he would have endangered Sergeant Michael Johnson, who had clambered over the passenger seat to hold on to the gear shift.
“An officer half in and half out of a vehicle that is about to be put into drive with the door open would certainly meet that standard of being in immediate danger of death or serious physical injury,” he said.
He also pushed against a contention made by the prosecution’s force expert, Seth Stoughton, on Wednesday that the officers had the option of letting Wright go.
“If a court order says that person is subject to arrest, they will be arrested,” Ijames said. Potter, Johnson and officer Andrew Luckey, who testified last week, were attempting to arrest Wright because of an open warrant related to a firearms charge.
On cross-examination, prosecutors pushed Ijames to talk about the relatively short time he’d spent preparing for the deadly-force arguments. The question of whether Potter would have been justified had she intentionally shot Wright, they pointed out, was brought to him only when Johnson raised it in his testimony. Ijames acknowledged that he’d been assigned primarily to assess whether Taser use would have been appropriate, but said he felt comfortable saying that both were acceptable.
Ijames and Gannon were joined by witnesses who attested to Potter’s character, including a former supervisor, a friend of her children and a close colleague from the Brooklyn Park Police Department. All three said she was known for being a “peaceful person” in the community. Prosecutors pushed them to clarify which communities those were: in Potter’s home in Champlin, 10 miles north of Brooklyn Center; in the community of law enforcement officers; or on the streets she patrolled in Brooklyn Center.
Wright's death drew national attention in part because it occurred during the high-profile trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. Protesters gathered at the site of the shooting and at the Brooklyn Center Police Department in the following nights, and protests escalated rapidly into confrontations with police that left nearby residents choking on police tear gas and several nearby businesses damaged or ransacked.
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