Defense expert: Police had duty to arrest Daunte Wright
Minneapolis –Police officers who stopped Daunte Wright were legally bound to arrest him after discovering he had a warrant for an outstanding weapons violation, a use-of-force expert testified Thursday as defense attorneys began making their case at Kim Potter’s manslaughter trial.
Stephen Ijames, a former assistant police chief in Springfield, Missouri, said it also was very unlikely that Wright could have driven away had Potter, a suburban Minneapolis police officer, actually used her Taser, which she has said she meant to do but instead mistakenly pulled her gun and shot Wright.
Prosecutors on Thursday rested their case against Potter, 49, who is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of Wright. During an April 11 traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, the 20-year-old Black motorist broke away from officers trying to arrest him and was attempting to drive away when Potter shot him. Body-camera video captured her shouting “I’ll tase you!” and “Taser, Taser, Taser!” before she fired once.
Potter’s attorneys have argued that she would have been within her rights to use deadly force even if she had intended to do so because a fellow officer was endangered by Wright’s attempt to flee.
Prosecutors called police witnesses to build their argument that Potter, who resigned from the police force two days after the shooting, was an experienced officer who had been thoroughly trained in use of a Taser, including warnings about the danger of confusing one with a handgun. They have to prove recklessness or culpable negligence if they are to win a conviction on the manslaughter charges.
The death of Wright, who was Black, set off angry demonstrations for several days in Brooklyn Center. It happened as another white officer, Derek Chauvin, was standing trial in nearby Minneapolis for the killing of George Floyd.
Ijames, who said he wrote the Taser policy for the International Association of Chiefs of Police, told the court Thursday that he disagreed with a use-of-force expert who testified for the prosecution that Potter was too close to Wright for the Taser to be effective.
Ijames said a Taser is the most effective tool to incapacitate someone when used properly, second only to a gunshot to the head. He also said officers had to assume that Wright “very likely could have a gun” because he had one in the past, and that it would have been a “dereliction of duty” for them not to have tried to arrest him.
The prosecution’s expert he disagreed with, University of South Carolina School of Law professor Seth Stoughton, testified Wednesday that if it appeared Wright was going to drive away, shooting a gun or deploying a Taser would have made things worse because he could have been incapacitated and his vehicle could have become a weapon. After Potter shot Wright, his car took off and crashed seconds later into an oncoming vehicle, hurting several people.
But Ijames testified that deadly force is warranted if an officer is halfway inside a vehicle that is about to be put into drive. In Wright’s case, two other officers were trying to get him out of the car when Potter shot him.
He later agreed under questioning by the state that deadly force would not have been reasonable if an officer in Potter’s position was unaware that one of the other officers was unable to exit the vehicle.
Prosecutor Matthew Frank noted that Ijames’ written report did not state that Potter had acted as “an objective officer” would have done in a similar situation, a phrase the state has often invoked during the trial.
Frank also seized on a part of Ijames’ report in which he said Potter’s single trigger pull backed up the idea that she meant to use her Taser. That’s because officers intending to use deadly force are often trained to fire more than once.
It wasn’t clear when Potter would take the stand. Her attorneys also planned to call several character witnesses to testify on her behalf, though the judge ruled Wednesday that they would be limited to three.
The case is being heard by a mostly white jury.
Bauer reported from Madison, Wisconsin. Associated Press writers Sara Burnett in Naperville, Illinois, and Tammy Webber in Fenton, Michigan, contributed.