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‘I just shot him’: What we now know about the killing of Daunte Wright by a Brooklyn Center police officer

So far, Wright’s death has led to second-degree manslaughter charges against the officer involved; ignited a series of demonstrations; and prompted a shakeup of Brooklyn Center city government.

Daunte Wright's mother, Katie Wright, speaking during a candlelit vigil at the site where Wright was killed by police during a traffic stop.
Daunte Wright's mother, Katie Wright, speaking during a candlelit vigil at the site where Wright was killed by police during a traffic stop.
REUTERS/Nick Pfosi

On Sunday, April 11 — not a year removed from the death of George Floyd in south Minneapolis, a killing that set off protests across the country — another Black Minnesotan was killed by a police officer: During a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was shot by a longtime veteran of the suburb’s police department, Kim Potter. 

The death led to a series of demonstrations in Brooklyn Center; protests there were met by an aggressive response by law enforcement. It also prompted a shakeup of Brooklyn Center city government and led to second-degree manslaughter charges against Potter. 

Five days on, here is what we know about the killing, those involved, and the aftermath so far: 

Why was Daunte Wright pulled over?

Just before 2 p.m. on Sunday, Brooklyn Center Police pulled over Wright near the intersection of 63rd Avenue North and Orchard Avenue. 

Daunte Wright holding his son, Daunte Jr., on his first birthday
Ben Crump Law
Daunte Wright holding his son, Daunte Jr., on his first birthday
Police said Wright was stopped for expired license plate tabs. After police looked up Wright’s record, they found a gross misdemeanor warrant for his arrest. The warrant was issued after Wright missed a court date for misdemeanor charges of carrying a pistol without a permit and fleeing a police officer “by a means other than a vehicle.”

What happened in the moments leading up to the shooting?

Police body camera video released by Brooklyn Center Police on Monday shows Wright getting out of his car and standing outside its driver side with his hands behind his back. One of the three officers on the scene, Anthony Luckey, is holding handcuffs while another unidentified officer approaches the passenger side of the car. Potter, who was there as a field training officer, hangs back. 

Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, told ABC News that he called her to say he was being pulled over and to ask for insurance information. “A second goes by, and I hear the police officer come back up to the window and ask Daunte to get out of the car,” she said. “Daunte asked, ‘For what?’ The police officer said, ‘I’ll explain to you when you get out of the car.’”

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The body camera footage shows Luckey trying to handcuff Wright. But before the cuffs are securely on, Wright slips back into the driver’s seat of the car — the door had remained open. Potter then draws her handgun and shouts, “I’ll tase him.” 

Pointing her gun at Wright, she yells, “I’ll tase you,” and then yells, “taser, taser, taser” and fires her weapon, which was just inches from Wright. 

A single bullet strikes him in the chest area, and Potter screams, “Holy shit, I just shot him.” 

The car with Wright in it drives away and travels a few blocks before colliding with another vehicle and coming to a stop. Wright dies at the scene.

Do we know anything more about why Potter shot Wright?

Not really. On Monday, then-Police Chief Tim Gannon speculated that Potter accidentally shot Wright, mistaking her gun for her Taser. “As I watch the video and listen to the officer’s commands it is my belief that the officer had the intention to deploy their Taser, but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet,” Gannon said. “This appears to me, from what I viewed in the officer’s reaction and distress immediately after, that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Wright.”

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Police officers are trained keeping their Tasers on their non-dominant side and their gun on their dominant side.

Wright’s parents told ABC they can’t accept that their son’s death was a mistake. “This officer has been on the force for 26 years. I can’t accept that,” said Wright’s father, Aubrey.

What do we know about the investigation? 

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office conducted an autopsy and released results Monday. It said that Wright died of a gunshot wound to the chest, listing the cause of death as a homicide. The office made clear that the homicide determination was for public health purposes and “not a legal determination of culpability or intent.”

Kimberly A. Potter
Hennepin County Jail
Kimberly A. Potter
As in other police killings, the local authorities have turned the investigation of what happened over to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, part of the state Department of Public Safety.

What may be unusual, according to former Chief Gannon, is a police department bypassing the BCA to release video. Brooklyn Center Police released body camera footage at its press conference under his order, said Gannon. 

“What I’ve understood is, the releasing of video this early in a situation is not something they [the BCA] condone,” said Gannon. He said he chose to release the footage in an attempt to be transparent. “I felt the community needed to know what happened, they needed to see it. I need to be transparent and I want to be forthright with due respect to Daunte as well,” said Gannon.

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The BCA also investigated in the case of the police killings of George Floyd, Justine Damond, Philando Castile and Jamar Clark.

A BCA investigation entails reviewing evidence, testing forensics and interviewing witnesses. The BCA cannot force testimony; Mohamed Noor, the Minneapolis police officer convicted of killing Justine Damond, declined to be questioned by the BCA.

Has Potter been charged with any crime related to Wright’s death?

Yes. On Wednesday, Potter was charged with second-degree manslaughter. The maximum penalty is 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, and the presumptive sentence under the state’s sentencing guidelines is 48 months in prison.

Minnesota statute defines second-degree manslaughter as “culpable negligence whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another.” Manslaughter can be unintentional.

The charges were filed by Washington County Attorney Pete Orput. Orput is overseeing the case instead of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman due to a policy implemented last year among five urban counties, who agreed not to charge cases in which police use deadly force in their own counties “to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest in handling such cases,” according to a statement from Freeman’s office.

Potter was arrested Wednesday and later released from jail on $100,000 bond. She appeared in an initial five-minute court hearing Thursday afternoon, where she confirmed some basic personal information and a date for her next hearing was set, May 17.

In a statement Wednesday, Ben Crump, an attorney for Wright’s family, said that he and the family “appreciate that the district attorney is pursuing justice for Daunte,” but that “no conviction can give the Wright family their loved one back.” 

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Some have argued the charges Potter faces are inadequate, and the Star Tribune reported members of Wright’s family noted differences between the charges against Potter and those levied against Mohamed Noor, the Black Minneapolis police officer who killed Justine Damond, a white woman, in 2017.

Noor, believed to be the first Minnesota officer convicted in an on-duty shooting, was found guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter after he shot Damond. He is currently serving a 12.5-year prison sentence.

Protesters wearing face masks reading "I can't breathe" hold candles outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department.
REUTERS/Leah Millis
Protesters wearing face masks reading "I can't breathe" hold candles outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department.

What else do we know about Daunte Wright?

Wright was a beloved son and a doting father to a child of his own. Many of the images circulating of Wright are of him with his son, Daunte Jr., celebrating the boy’s first birthday.

One of Wright’s favorite hobbies was basketball. He attended high school in Minneapolis, spending time at Edison and Patrick Henry high schools, and putting in minutes for freshman and junior varsity squads. His friends told the Associated Press he enjoyed playing the game, and his family says he cherished spending time with his son.

What do we know about Kim Potter?

The BCA identified Potter as the officer who shot Wright on Monday evening. Potter, 48, had been on the force for 26 years, during which time she became the head of the department’s union and served as a field training officer. She resigned Tuesday in a letter, saying “I believe it is in the best interest of the community, the department, and my fellow officers if I resign immediately.”

In 2019, Potter was among the first to respond to the fatal shooting by police of Kobe Edgar Dimock-Heisler, 21, in Brooklyn Center. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office found the officers involved were “justified in resorting to deadly force.” The attorney’s office investigation also said Potter, once arriving at the scene of Dimock-Heisler’s shooting, instructed the two officers involved to get into separate squad cars, turn off their body cameras and not speak to each other. 

Potter is being represented by Earl Gray, a criminal defense attorney who also is representing Thomas Lane, one of four Minneapolis Police officers charged in the death of George Floyd, and who represented Jeronimo Yanez, the former St. Anthony officer who killed Philando Castile.

Barricades have been erected around Potter’s Champlin home, which is being guarded by police, according to Kare 11, and Potter’s family has relocated out-of-state. 

What is going on with the protests in Brooklyn Center? 

Demonstrators have protested in Brooklyn Center every night since Wright’s killing, starting Sunday night with hundreds of people crowding around the Brooklyn Center Police station.

In addition to officers from Brooklyn Center, officers from nearby police departments are policing the protests, along with Hennepin County Sheriff officers and the Minnesota National Guard. The city has set curfews each night and law enforcement ordered protesters to disperse Sunday through Wednesday nights.

The city reported around 60 arrests Tuesday night. Wednesday night, the Minnesota Operation Safety Net said 22 people were booked during demonstrations.

Some of the law enforcement tactics used to disperse the crowds earlier in the week — including the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and flash-bangs — sparked criticism from activists and some DFL elected officials and prompted a response from the city.

CCX Media, part of Northwest Community Television, reported that more than 35 businesses in Brooklyn Center had been damaged as of Tuesday. Businesses in Minneapolis and St. Paul were also damaged.

Activists raising their arms as they confront state troopers, National Guard members and other law enforcement officers following a march on Tuesday night.
REUTERS/Nick Pfosi
Activists raising their arms as they confront state troopers, National Guard members and other law enforcement officers following a march on Tuesday night.

What is all this about ‘confusion’ in Brooklyn Center city government? 

On Monday, the City Council voted to fire City Manager Curt Boganey, with Mayor Mike Elliott saying the move came about because “the City Council had significant concerns regarding how the city responded to the protest.” Deputy City Manager Reggie Edwards was appointed acting city manager.

The City Council also voted Monday to give the city’s mayor the power to command the police instead of the city manager. “At such a tough time, this will streamline things and establish a chain of command and leadership,” wrote Mayor Elliott on Twitter.

The council also passed a resolution to prevent the city’s police from using tear gas and rubber bullets, though the rule does not apply to assisting departments and tear gas was used by law enforcement shortly after the measure was passed and on subsequent nights.

Police Chief Gannon resigned Tuesday, and Acting Chief Tony Gruenig was appointed to replace him.

The changes in leadership have apparently caused some frustration. On Thursday, Gov. Tim Walz told reporters he understood there were tensions between Elliott and Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson. After Elliott criticized crowd control measures used on protesters by other law enforcement agencies, Hutchinson wrote a letter to the mayor blaming Brooklyn Center for creating “significant confusion,” and asked Elliott to confirm his city still needed help from other law enforcement agencies. 

Sheriff Dave Hutchinson
MinnPost photo by Jessica Lee
Sheriff Dave Hutchinson
“In light of the recent changes in city leadership, I am writing to confirm my understanding that the City of Brooklyn Center continues to request mutual aid from state and other law enforcement agencies, including the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office,” Hutchinson wrote.

“In order to maintain peace and safety, it is critical that the City of Brooklyn Center communicate with its State, County, and local law enforcement partners regarding its ongoing need for mutual aid.”

At a Brooklyn Center City Council meeting Thursday night, Crystal Police Chief Stephanie Revering, in her role as the head of the Hennepin County Chiefs of Police Association, was also critical of Brooklyn Center’s efforts in coordinating a response with other police departments. The organization she heads represents neighboring agencies policing protests at the request of Brooklyn Center.

She argued officers needed a unified command structure under which to operate and the ability to make “judicious” use of less-lethal weapons.