(Reuters) – Kimberly Potter, the white former Minnesota police officer who killed Black motorist Daunte Wright in April after claiming she mistook her handgun for her Taser, took the stand on Friday in the high-profile manslaughter trial.
Potter, 49, has pleaded not guilty to first- and second-degree manslaughter charges, which carry maximum sentences of 15 and 10 years respectively. Her lawyers have said that Potter thought she was drawing her stun gun when she shot Wright in the chest with her Glock handgun during a traffic stop.
Prosecutors rested their case on Thursday after a week of witness testimony aimed in large part at establishing the extensive training received by Potter, which they argued made her criminally culpable in the death of the 20-year-old Wright.
Potter was a 26-year veteran of the police force in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center. The shooting triggered several nights of intense protests, with critics calling it another example of police violence against Black Americans.
The incident occurred just a few miles north of where Derek Chauvin, a white former Minneapolis police officer, was at the same time standing trial in the case of George Floyd, a Black man whose 2020 death during an arrest set off racial justice protests in many U.S. cities. Chauvin was convicted of murder.
Potter and another police officer pulled Wright over because there was an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror and his license plate tabs were expired. They then learned of an outstanding warrant for his arrest on a misdemeanor weapons charge and sought to detain him, which Wright resisted.
Potter can be heard shouting, “taser, taser, taser,” on her body-worn camera and video from her squad car before firing into the car as Wright broke free from a second officer and tried to drive away. A third officer had entered through the passenger side of the vehicle to assist with the arrest.
During cross examination of witnesses, Potter’s attorneys have sought to portray the situation as dangerous for the officers, thereby justifying Potter’s use of force, even if she drew the wrong weapon. They have argued that the third officer was at risk of being dragged down the street if Wright was allowed to drive away, requiring Potter to stop him.
(Corrects dateline from Dec 16 to Dec 17)
(Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Mark Porter)