The trial of the former Minnesota police officer who shot and killed 20-year-old Black motorist Daunte Wright when she grabbed her gun instead of her Taser during a traffic stop began Wednesday, with the prosecutor saying years of training and experience should have prevented the fatal incident.
Kim Potter, 49, faces felony charges of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter in connection with Wright's death and could face more than a decade in prison if convicted.
In opening statements, prosecutor Erin Eldridge said Potter, who had been a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center police force before resigning days after the shooting in April, violated her years of training and her duty as an officer when she killed Wright.
"This case is about the defendant Kimberly Potter betraying her badge and betraying her oath and betraying her position of public trust," she said.
Eldridge told the jury that the former police officer "had been trained for years" to prevent the sort of scenario that led to the shooting — including specific training on how to avoid mixing up handguns and Tasers under stressful situations.
“We trust [police] to know wrong from right, and left from right,” Eldridge said. “This case is about an officer who knew not to get it dead wrong, but she failed to get it right.”
On April 11, Potter was training a new police officer in suburban Minneapolis when she pulled Wright over for having expired license plate tags and hanging a tree-shaped air freshener from the car's rearview mirror, according to the criminal complaint. While running his information, the officers discovered that Wright had an outstanding arrest warrant for a gross misdemeanor weapons violation and attempted to place him under arrest. But Wright resisted arrest, struggling with Potter's partner and re-entering his car in order to escape the scene. As he attempted to flee, Potter warned Wright that she planned to use her Taser on him — but ultimately, mistakenly drew and fired her handgun instead.
Wright, who was driving his car when he was shot, was pronounced dead at the scene. He was unarmed.
Following opening statements, the prosecution began its case by calling Wright's mother, Katie Bryant, to the stand. In her tearful testimony, she told the court that she was on the phone with her son right up until he followed the officers' instructions to exit his car.
"I was panicked. I called back — it seemed like 100 times, but I believe was probably maybe four or five times — and I kept calling so finally FaceTimed," Bryant said.
When Wright's girlfriend finally answered, Bryant said she was screaming.
"She said that they shot him and she faced the phone toward the driver's seat. My son was lying there," she said. "He was unresponsive and I heard somebody say 'hang up the phone' again."
Wright's death sparked public outcry and protests. Two days after the shooting, Potter and the Brooklyn Center police chief submitted letters of resignation.
Eldridge showed the jury footage of the shooting from Potter's body camera and the squad car during her opening remarks. Before firing, Potter can be heard shouting, "Taser" and "I'll tase you." Immediately after shooting one bullet into Wright's chest, according to the footage, Potter realized that she had grabbed the wrong weapon.
"Holy shit, I just shot him," Potter said in the footage. "I grabbed the wrong fucking gun. I shot him."
In his opening statement, defense attorney Paul Engh told the jury Potter made an unforeseen, innocent — but tragic — mistake during a high-stress situation.
“An error can happen,” he said. “We are in the human business. Police officers are human beings. And that’s what occurred."
Engh pointed to Wright's criminal history and outstanding arrest warrant as proof that Potter and her partner had a reason to think he might be armed and dangerous.
Engh said that video evidence would show that Potter's trainee partner was reaching inside Wright's car when he began driving away and would therefore be dragged unless the car stopped.
"She had to do what she had to do to prevent a death to a fellow officer," Engh told the jury.
Potter plans to take the stand in her own defense. The trial is expected to end before Dec. 24.