A Minnesota prosecutor could decide as early as Wednesday whether to charge a police officer who authorities say shot and killed a Black man in a Minneapolis suburb after a traffic stop — a shooting that has sparked three nights of protests.
The Washington County prosecutor is weighing charges for Brooklyn Center police Officer Kim Potter in Sunday’s fatal shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright, he told CNN.
“I hope to have a charging decision by tomorrow,” prosecutor Pete Orput said in an email Tuesday afternoon. “I just received voluminous documents, and with enough coffee, I’ll have something tomorrow.”
Wright’s death Sunday in Brooklyn Center, which then-Police Chief Tim Gannon said appeared to be the result of Potter mistaking her gun for her Taser as Wright resisted arrest, has roiled a metropolitan area scarred by other police-involved deaths and reignited national conversations about policing and the use of force.
Developments in the investigation have unfolded daily, including the release of body camera footage and Gannon’s statement that the shooting appeared accidental on Monday, and the resignations of Potter and Gannon on Tuesday.
Protests, some violent, have taken place each night in and around Brooklyn Center. Wright’s family has called for charges against the officer.
Demonstrations Tuesday began peacefully, but chaos erupted around the Brooklyn Center police station by evening. Officers used pepper spray and fired flash bombs at protesters, who hurled water bottles and other projectiles at officers in riot gear.
The unified law enforcement command in Brooklyn Center made “upwards of 60 arrests” Tuesday night, many of which were for “riot and other criminal behaviors,” Chief of the Minnesota State Patrol Matt Langer said.
Though Potter has submitted a resignation letter, Mayor Mike Elliott said Tuesday he has not accepted it, adding “we’re doing our internal process to make sure that we are being accountable to the steps that we need to take.” Earlier, he told CBS he thought Potter should be fired.
Orput is the prosecutor in Washington County, near Hennepin County, where Brooklyn Center is. The case was given to Washington County prosecutors to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest in Hennepin County, officials have said.
Sunday’s killing of Wright is at least the third high-profile death of a Black man during a police encounter in the Minneapolis area in the past five years, after the shooting of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights in 2016 and the death of George Floyd last year. Minneapolis police also were under scrutiny when an officer was convicted of third-degree murder and manslaughter for the 2017 fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk, a White woman.
The trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer accused of killing Floyd, is taking place just 10 miles from Brooklyn Center.
Attorney Earl Gray is representing Potter, he told CNN on Tuesday. Gray is also the attorney for Thomas Lane, one of four officers involved in Floyd’s death, and one of the defense attorneys for Jeronimo Yanez, the former police officer who was found not guilty in Castile’s death.
Protesters scale fence outside FBI office
In Tuesday’s demonstrations, protesters were seen scaling a fence outside the FBI office, holding a banner reading, “Justice for Daunte Wright.” Members of the National Guard were in Brooklyn Center, Minneapolis and St. Paul.
By the time the city’s 10 p.m. curfew started, hundreds of protesters had dwindled to a few dozen. With officers and police vehicles forming a line across front yards and the street blocking the police precinct, those remaining draped themselves in blankets and lit a small garbage fire in the falling snow.
On the street where protesters were once shoulder to shoulder, the few remaining chanted: “Say his name: Daunte Wright,” and “I smell bacon, fry the pig.”
Speaking at a late-night news conference, Hennepin County Sheriff David Hutchinson said there was recognition of the pain suffered in the community on Sunday night.
“The person (Kim Potter) is no longer a police officer, and they’ll be held accountable for their actions,” he said. “But we can’t have people hurting our communities, we can’t have people hurting the men and women who are paid to protect them.”
Two families come together in tragedy
Floyd’s family left the courthouse during Chauvin’s trial Tuesday “because they thought it was important that they give comfort to Daunte Wright’s mother” and family, attorney Ben Crump said at a news conference with the two families.
“We will stand in support with you. … The world is traumatized, watching another African American man being slayed,” said Philonise Floyd, brother of George Floyd. “I woke up in the morning with this on my mind. I don’t want to see another victim.”
The losses of both Wright and Floyd were acknowledged in Tuesday’s protests. Demonstrators knelt for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, to symbolize the amount of time authorities say Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck.
And just as the Floyd family did last year, the Wright family is looking for more answers surrounding their loved one’s death.
One of the family’s attorneys, Jeffrey Storms, told CNN that Gannon’s explanation — that the shooting appeared to be an accident — “is by no means proper or enough.”
“There were a number of intentional events that led to (Daunte Wright) being dead, and we need to find out exactly why each one of those intentional events happened,” Storms said Tuesday.
“Grabbing your sidearm that you’ve likely deployed thousands, if not tens of thousands, of times is an intentional act,” Storms said. “A sidearm feels different than a Taser. It looks different than a Taser. (It) requires different pressure in order to deploy it.”
Wright’s father, Aubrey Wright, told ABC on Tuesday that he couldn’t accept Gannon’s explanation that Sunday’s shooting was accidental.
“I can’t accept that — a mistake. That doesn’t even sound right,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America.” He cited the officer’s length of service — authorities said she’d been with Brooklyn Center police for 26 years.
Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, said she wanted to see the officer “held accountable for everything that she’s taken from us.”
“It should have never, ever escalated the way it did,” Katie Wright told ABC.
What happened in traffic stop that ended Wright’s life
Wright was with his girlfriend Sunday afternoon, driving to the house of his older brother, Damik Bryant.
Officers pulled him over in Brooklyn Center for an expired tag and learned he had an outstanding warrant, police said. It was not clear what the warrant was for.
Wright gave officers his name before calling his mother, Bryant said. His mother, Katie Wright, told reporters that Daunte Wright called her, and she heard a police officer ask him to put down his phone and get out of the car.
Daunte told her he’d explain why he was pulled over after he exited, she said. She eventually heard police ask him to hang up, and then scuffling, before the call ended, she said.
Body camera footage released Monday shows Wright standing outside his vehicle with his arms behind his back and an officer directly behind him, trying to handcuff him. An officer tells Wright “don’t,” before Wright twists away and gets back into the driver’s seat of the car.
The officer whose camera footage was released is heard warning the man she’s going to use her Taser on him, before repeatedly shouting, “Taser! Taser! Taser!”
Then, the officer is heard screaming, “Holy sh*t! I just shot him.”
The car’s door closes, and Wright drives away. The car crashed several blocks away, police said. Police and medical personnel attempted life-saving measures following the crash, but Wright died at the scene, Gannon said.
Gannon said the portion of body-worn camera footage released Monday led him to believe the shooting was accidental and that the officer’s actions before the shooting were consistent with the department’s training on Tasers.