Politics

Minnesota prosecutor sums up case, says officer was reckless in Wright shooting

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Kimberly Potter, the former Minnesota police officer on trial for killing Daunte Wright, acted recklessly and with “culpable negligence” in mistaking her handgun for her Taser and firing on the young man, a prosecutor said in closing arguments on Monday.

Erin Eldridge, assistant Minnesota Attorney General, walked the jury through Potter’s extensive training during her 26-year career as a police officer in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center, arguing it made her actions risky and indefensible.

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“She was no rookie. It wasn’t her first day on the job,” Eldridge told the panel of six men and six women. “An officer who mishandled her firearm. That’s why we are here.”

Potter, 49, has pleaded not guilty to first- and second-degree manslaughter charges, which carry maximum sentences of 15 and 10 years respectively, saying she thought she was drawing her Taser when she shot Wright with her 9 mm handgun on April 11, an assertion supported by video of her post-shooting reactions.

Potter is white and the shooting of Wright triggered several nights of intense protests outside the police station in Brooklyn Center, with critics calling it another example of police brutality 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 https://www.reuters.com/world/us/jurors-resume-deliberations-derek-chauvin-murder-trial-2021-04-20 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.

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When Potter’s attorneys deliver their closing argument later on Monday they are expected to point to the perceived danger of the traffic stop to Potter and other officers, given that there was an outstanding warrant for Wright’s arrest and that a woman had taken out a restraining order against him, and argue that force was justified, even if she drew the wrong weapon.

The defense is also expected to highlight the testimony of Dr. Laurence Miller, a psychologist who testified about “action error,” or when a person takes one action while intending to do another. Miller spoke about how such mistakes are common in daily life, such as inputting the wrong computer password or writing down the wrong date, and can be triggered by stress.

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Prosecutors have conceded that Potter made a mistake and did not intend to kill Wright. To secure a conviction on the first degree charge, they must prove she caused his death while committing the misdemeanor offense of recklessly using her firearm. For the second-degree charge, the jury must find Potter guilty of “culpable negligence” by creating an “unreasonable risk and consciously” taking a chance of causing him great harm.

“At the heart of it this case is very simple, members of the jury. It’s a case about the defendant’s reckless handling of her fiream and her culpable negligence,” Eldridge said. “This was a colossal screw-up. A blunder of epic proportions… It was irreversible and it was fatal.”

Potter broke down in tears on the stand on Friday, testifying that she was deeply sorry for killing Wright. She was not asked to explain the mistake to the jury and said she largely blacked out in the aftermath of the shooting.

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Potter and another police officer pulled Wright over because there was an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror and his vehicle’s license tabs were expired. They then learned of a 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 before firing into Wright’s car after he broke free from a second officer. Potter testified that she feared for the life of a third officer who had entered through the passenger side, if Wright were allowed to drive away. (Reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Alistair Bell)

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