Defense expert: Police had duty to arrest Daunte Wright
MINNEAPOLIS — A use-of-force expert says the police officers who stopped Daunte Wright were legally bound to arrest him because of a warrant for an outstanding weapons violation. Stephen Ijames was testifying for the defense at former Minnesota officer Kim Potter’s manslaughter trial.
Prosecutors rested their case Thursday against Potter, who fatally shot Black motorist Daunte Wright during an April traffic stop in suburban Minneapolis.
On Thursday, jurors returned to the courtroom at 9:05 a.m. and Judge Regina Chu asked the state if it had any more witnesses to call. Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank then said the state rests its case and jurors were asked to leave the courtroom again for 10 minutes.
After jurors leave, defense attorney Paul Engh moved for a judgment of acquittal, calling the state’s case "a confusing mess, really," and saying the defense views the state’s evidence as "insufficient." Frank responds that "the standard for taking a case from the jury’s hands is actually quite high" and that standard hasn’t been met. Chu, based on the standard, denies the defense’s motion for acquittal.
She then says, addressing some matters covered at the end of the day Wednesday, she will allow the defense’s expert to testify about deadly force.
Earl Gray then says the defense wants to state the date of a drug conviction Katie Bryant has. Erin Eldridge says the state objects and calls it improper at this point of the trial. Eldridge and Gray go back and forth for a couple of minutes and Chu then states that the defense had a chance to bring this up in cross-examination. Chu asks the prosecutors if they’ll stipulate to the date, the state denies and Chu then denies the defense’s request.
Frank then again brings up the defense’s use of force expert and says the defense’s action is a "flouting of the rules and the court’s order." Chu says she’s already ruled on the topic but allows Frank to be heard. Frank says the state provided the defense 52 pages on its expert and the defense provided two pages and therefore, the state has no knowledge of what the defense’s expert will testify on. Frank also says the defense’s disclosure from former Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon is "woefully inadequate."
"What we’re seeing, your honor, is a pattern of flouting the court’s orders and the rules and trying to litigate by surprise," Frank says before asking Chu to not allow the defense’s expert to testify at all, at least nothing that is not in his report. Frank then asks Chu to not allow Gannon to offer expert opinion.
Engh responds that Gannon has more experience than Stoughton did for the state and says the state never tried to contact Gannon. Chu then says she’ll allow the defense’s expert to testify about deadly force "because there is really no prejudice here." On Gannon, Chu says she previously ruled that officers could testify on their training and the chief should be able to testify if Potter followed that training.
Chu confirms Potter does still want to testify. Chu then calls for the jury to be brought in.
At 9:41 a.m., Chu apologizes to jurors for the delay and also for the many sidebars on Wednesday, urging them to not consider any of that and just focus on the evidence. The defense then calls its first witness, Stephen Ijames. Engh starts questioning Ijames. He notes he’s in his 44th year of being a police officer in Missouri. They go over his training, education and past experiences. He lists his experiences as a patrol officer, undercover narcotics officer, detective, sergeant, SWAT team supervisor, lieutenant, captain, major and assistant chief, detailing his roles in each position.
Engh asks Ijames about critical incidents and Ijames says he’s been involved in hundreds of them. He confirms "the vast majority" involved guns. He also notes he was a generalist and specialist instructor for the Missouri Department of Public Safety starting in the 1980s. Engh then reads off many places Ijames has made presentations for different organizations.
At 9:58 a.m., Engh asks Ijames about Tasers. After giving a brief history of the company, Ijames goes over his deep understanding of Tasers. He also confirms a few awards he’s received and says he’s published around 100 articles in his career.
At 10:03 a.m., Engh shifts more to this case. Ijames says he’s reviewed 2,000-3,000 use-of-force cases in his career. He states that he’s been involved in four criminal cases and this is the lone case considered in the officer’s favor. He adds that he’s not being paid for his opinion in this case. Ijames confirms he looked at the videos, statements, reports, etc. in the case and has also reviewed some of the testimony in the case, including from Luckey, Sgt. Johnson, Sgt. Peterson and Stoughton.
Ijames then walks through the case. Asked about Wright’s warrant, Ijames says that was significant for him because "the best way to indicate what might happen tomorrow is what happened yesterday." He adds a weapons warrant doesn’t mean the person has a gun but they very likely could have one because they did at one point. Ijames says the harassment order factors in the same way and "just continues to elevate and officer’s vigilance." Ijames adds the warrant means there’s a mandate to arrest Wright. He adds, "there’s consequences if you don’t (arrest a person with a warrant)," calling it a "dereliction of duty not to." Ijames also says he would’ve disciplined an officer for not executing an arrest warrant.
On Wright resisting arrest, Ijames calls it "the norm" that he resisted when the first handcuff was about to go on. On his decision to arrest, Ijames says, "It changes everything" and resisting means officers "will have to use that level of control to overcome the resistance and continue to work towards that lawful objective which is affecting the arrest warrant." Ijames adds the officers were legally obligated to arrest him and couldn’t have just let him go.
During the struggle, Ijames says Wright wasn’t ever in control of the vehicle, saying that "literally means the ability to put it in drive and go." Regarding body camera stills, Ijames said frames can be helpful but adds, "to suggest that anyone, officer or citizen, sees and perceives something you see in a 1/29.5-second frame is just completely unrealistic." A state objection prompts a brief sidebar but Chu overrules it after a few minutes and Engh continues.
Ijames again says Wright didn’t have control of the vehicle as he got into the car. On shooting into a stationary vs. moving car, Ijames says it’s dependent on circumstances and "The key issue is balancing the need to use that extreme level of force with the potential consequences." Ijames then describes reasonable use of force and objective reasonableness, saying officers want proportionality but it just has to be reasonable.
On the "Taser, Taser, Taser" warning, Ijames confirms it’s mainly a warning for other officers to know a Taser is about to be deployed. He then says Stoughton’s opinion that Potter was too close to Wright for the Taser to be effective is "completely untrue" and explains how the Taser works. Ijames says Wright being seated "changes everything" because the Taser probes would’ve hit his upper and lower body. When the Taser works, Ijames calls it "the most effective incapacitation tool I’ve ever experienced" short of something like a gunshot to the head. Ijames adds someone being incapacitated by a Taser is "pretty much locked up, to get to a shifter drive would be very, very unlikely in my experience" so Wright wouldn’t have driven away.
Ijames also disagrees that the other people around Wright made it a bad idea to use a Taser on Wright. "There is a risk you can make a mistake … but it does not prevent you from doing what you need to do in most scenarios," he says. On the potential for Sgt. Johnson being dragged, Ijames says "We recently retired this year an officer from my department who was permanently disabled having been drugged in a very similar scenario and was medically disabled, he’s gone." That prompts an objection from Frank, who asks that comment to be removed from the record and Chu agrees. Engh then moves on.
Ijames says Potter’s plan to use a Taser is consistent with police training, saying Wright needed to be stopped as quickly as possible and a Taser had the best chance to do that or Wright could drive away and "it’s going to get bad." On Sgt. Johnson’s positioning, Ijames says an officer seeing another officer half in a car that’s about to be driven would meet the standard of immediate danger so the officer could shoot.
Chu then dismisses jurors for a 20-minute break at 10:40 a.m.
The jury returns at 11:06 a.m. and Frank begins questioning Ijames. Frank goes over Ijames’ CV and career, highlighting the government consultation and conferences he attended all over the country and world. Frank circles back to the four criminal cases Ijames is working on and seeks clarity. Ijames then says he’s actually got five open criminal cases and this is the second where his testimony is in support of the police officer. Franks notes Ijames’ CV doesn’t say how many times he’s been retained as an expert. Frank also confirms Ijames’ 43 years in law enforcement and 25 years of evaluating use-of-force.
Frank asks what Ijames was asked to focus on in this case and Ijames says the stop and Taser use was the initial focus.
Frank notes Ijames then wrote a two-page report on his findings but only three paragraphs were Ijames’ opinions. Frank also notes his report doesn’t say anything about objectively reasonable officers and Ijames confirms. Frank asks when Ijames wrote his report and Ijames says before what he reviewed last week but after he saw the case that was supplied to him. Frank notes the bottom of his report says he still needs the records and Ijames says he doesn’t know why that’s on there.
Frank then moves to Ijames’ testimony on shooting someone in a vehicle and asks if the engine of the vehicle being on was important and Ijames says it is. Asked if he learned if the engine on Wright’s car was running, Ijames says it was. He also confirms all Wright needed to do was put it in gear then and it would’ve moved. Frank notes Ijames’ opinion Potter meant to use a Taser is formed largely around the fact she only pulled the trigger once and Ijames confirms it’s a factor, although her verbal warnings also suggest that.
Frank asks more about that and Ijames says officers do sometimes fire a single shot but double-tapping the trigger is more common. Noting that opinion, Frank says Ijames would then agree Potter meant to use her Taser and a reasonable officer therefore wouldn’t have used lethal force. Ijames pauses before saying the Taser would’ve been appropriate but it doesn’t appear lethal force would’ve been, adding he hasn’t heard Potter’s side.
Moving on to Taser training, Frank asks about probe spread and then notes Tasers aren’t effective all the time. Ijames says they are about 67% of the time. Frank asks about Ijames’ testimony about Wright’s body positioning aiding probe spread. Frank outlines Wright’s positioning and says it doesn’t appear that’d achieve good probe spread and Ijames responds that "it may or may not." Ijames also agrees it wouldn’t be unreasonable for an officer to let go of someone who is about to have a Taser used on them from a foot or two away.
On shooting occupants of a vehicle, Ijames agrees officers have to consider secondary consequences of their actions and that doing something to a driver could lead to a dangerous situation for others. Ijames reiterates he isn’t familiar with any specific training about incapacitating people operating vehicles. Asking about Ijames’ contemporary police practices and training, Frank asks if an average officer knows about that and Ijames asks for clarity. Frank then asks if Ijames reviewed Brooklyn Center Police policy about shooting into vehicles and Ijames says he doesn’t recall. Frank says shooting a driver of a moving vehicle puts others at harm and Ijames says it depends on the circumstances but agrees it’s not going to make the driver a safe driver. Frank rephrases and Ijames confirms incapacitating a driver creates a concern for collateral injury.
Frank then moves to incapacitating a driver who just has to shift the vehicle into gear. Ijames says it doesn’t present the same danger as an already moving vehicle but agrees there’s still danger. Frank asks if he’s drawing such a distinction between moving and non-moving, why Ijames wrote "operating/driving" in his report instead of moving and Ijames says he doesn’t recall. Ijames then agrees that he stated if Wright was in a position to operate the vehicle then it wasn’t unreasonable for Potter to consider using a Taser. Ijames states Wright "was in a position to operate it, he wasn’t operating it at the time."
Frank asks if the defense limited Ijames’ opinion just to the Taser focus, the defense objects and Chu sustains. Frank looks shocked and asks for a sidebar. After a couple of minutes, Chu repeats the objection is sustained and Frank continues. Ijames confirms he didn’t talk about deadly force in his report but did review Stoughton’s testimony. After Sgt. Johnson’s testimony, then he was asked to provide his deadly force opinion, Ijames says. Franks asks if all Ijames told the defense last night was that deadly force was appropriate, based on Sgt. Johnson’s testimony. Ijames says he doesn’t recall but thinks he said a lot more. Ijames reviews the document Frank was given by the defense and Ijames says they talked for a couple of hours and he doesn’t know why Engh reduced it down to one sentence.
Frank moves on at 11:59 a.m. saying Sgt. Johnson’s testimony of where he was is what formed Ijames’ opinion on the use of deadly force and Ijames confirms that was part of it. Ijames then reiterates he didn’t focus on the use of deadly force in this case until being asked after Sgt. Johnson testified. Frank then asks to show Ijames a portion of Sgt. Johnson’s body camera video when Potter says she’ll tase Wright. Moving the video a second forward, Ijames agrees he can hear Potter starting to yell, "Taser, Taser, Taser," and agrees Johnson is more out than in the vehicle.
Frank moves to warrants, noting Ijames testified a warrant mandates an officer to arrest somebody. Ijames reiterates that and reiterates a warrant for a gun violation should make an officer more alert about potential danger. Frank notes an officer could be derelict in duty for using unreasonable force in an arrest and Ijames agrees. Ijames also agrees Wright didn’t assault any officers during the struggle. Asked about Johnson’s hand on the shift knob, Ijames agrees Johnson would’ve known the vehicle couldn’t have moved because he was stopping it. Ijames also agrees Brooklyn Center’s Taser policy is more restrictive than the policy he wrote for the National Policy Center for the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
Circling back to Sgt. Johnson’s testimony, Frank notes Ijames hasn’t tried to assess whether a reasonable officer in Potter’s position would’ve known about Sgt. Johnson’s position and Ijames agrees he hasn’t.
At 12:17 p.m., Engh asks about a hypothetical where an officer in Potter’s position saw Johnson’s position and believed he was in immediate danger, and Ijames says in that scenario deadly force would be justified. Engh asks a couple more questions, each objected to by the state and sustained by Chu.
At 12:20 p.m., Frank asks for clarification on the hypothetical Engh mentioned. Ijames agrees his deadly force opinion isn’t on the facts of this case, just on the hypothetical Engh laid out, adding he hasn’t heard from Potter. Frank follows with his own hypothetical, saying if a reasonable officer in Potter’s position didn’t know Sgt. Johnson could not have exited the vehicle, deadly force wouldn’t be reasonable and Ijames agrees.
At 12:24 p.m., Ijames is excused. Chu then adjourns for lunch until 1:30 p.m.
At 1:31 p.m., former Brooklyn Center Police Chief Timothy Gannon is sworn in and Gray begins questioning him. They go over his past experiences, including his time in the Marine Corps, and notes he started at the Brooklyn Center Police Department in 1994, the year before Potter started. He then walks through the positions he worked in the department. He says he worked as Potter’s patrol commander for about eight years. The state objects when Gannon is asked about Potter’s character but Chu previously overruled that.
Gannon says Potter "was a fine officer and there’s certain things within the department that you get known for. Are you handling your calls? Are you professional when you talk with people? Are you doing good police reports? She was known for doing all of those things." He also notes Potter’s work for the Law Enforcement Memorial Association, the Domestic Abuse Response Team, the Field Training Officer program, noting she was one of the few senior officers who did the FTO program. Gannon notes he was then promoted to chief in 2015 until after the shooting.
Gannon said, "Related to the political pressures within the agency, within the city, was no longer to stay, I was no longer allowed to stay as the chief of police." He added that he believes "one of the reasons that I was required or requested to leave the agency was because I would not immediately fire Kim Potter."
On April 11, Gannon explains he was told to look at Potter’s body camera video and later looked at dash camera video. Gray then asks what Gannon saw from Potter based on her training and he responds, "I saw no violation." Gray asks if Gannon was involved in critical incidents and he says yes, including one where he was dragged by a car. The state objects several times but Chu overrules them. After Gannon describes what went through his mind when he was dragged — "sheer terror" — the state objects again and Chu calls for a sidebar. After a couple of minutes, Chu sustains the objection and Gray continues.
On the traffic stop, Gannon said Luckey should’ve moved Wright to the back of the car before he tried to handcuff him and says, as a field training officer, he wouldn’t have corrected Luckey until a debrief afterward. He adds that he didn’t see any policy violations from Potter, Luckey or Johnson after Wright started resisting. Asked by Gray, Gannon says, in his opinion, a Taser or gun was appropriate to use in the situation.
Moving on, Gannon said he’s now a business agent for Law Enforcement Labor Services and recently started negotiating contracts.
Frank takes over at 1:53 p.m. Gannon says he knew Potter socially through gatherings outside of work. He notes he was surprised when he found out Potter was the officer who shot Wright. Gannon confirms he only saw Potter’s bodycam video before he resigned and concluded she didn’t mean to use her firearm. In addition to not firing Potter, Gannon said his handling of riots on April 11-12 was another reason he was given for why he couldn’t stay as chief and he disagreed with them.
"We have a policy in place to do administrative investigations," Gannon said. "And they entail being thorough, being impartial and being fair. And I don’t think I could have done any one of those three things if I were to make that decision that day." He then confirms he resigned instead of being fired and was allowed to keep his retirement benefits.
Asked by Frank if he can offer the opinions Gray asked him to without bias, Gannon says he believes so. Frank notes Gannon told the media after the shooting he wouldn’t talk about Wright’s death because he thought he’d be a witness and Gannon said the defense had contacted him by that point.
Gannon says he saw danger in Sgt. Johnson’s situation. Asked by Frank, Gannon notes it doesn’t make sense for someone to put the vehicle in reverse to flee with two squads behind him. Gannon said the dash camera video made him believe Sgt. Johnson was hanging in Wright’s car at the time of the shooting. Frank notes that’s not what Gannon told defense attorneys and then shows him a transcript of his interview to refresh his memory.
Gray then starts expressing his frustrations and Chu, apparently frustrated by the repeated lack of one-word objections, tells Gray to stop and call a sidebar if needed. He then calls for a sidebar and Chu sustains the objection. Gannon confirms when he met with the defense in November, he thought Sgt. Johnson was leaning in the car. When meeting with the defense in December, Gannon then saw Luckey’s. He also confirms that’s how he came to his decision about deadly force, adding he hasn’t seen Sgt. Johnson’s body camera video or interviewed any witnesses.
Frank then asks Gannon if he’s ever had to review an officer’s conduct over if it was reasonable for use of force. Gannon says yes but then confirms he wasn’t making legal determinations on reasonableness. He says he didn’t carry a Taser every day after becoming a commander in 2005. He agrees that Wright shouldn’t have been allowed to leave the scene due to his warrant.
From the dash camera, Gannon said he could see Sgt. Johnson’s feet were on the ground but adds he still had a large portion of his body in the vehicle. Frank notes he hasn’t seen Johnson’s bodycam video though and Gannon agrees. Gannon also states he’s not aware of Johnson preventing Wright from driving off.
Gannon agrees officers have to consider the surroundings of a person they’re considering using a Taser on. He says Potter’s distance from Wright wouldn’t have put Johnson or the passenger at risk because they were close, although he admits Wright was moving. Frank then asks about the distance needed to get good neuromuscular incapacitation with a Taser and displays Potter’s certification for the Taser 7, which notes the close-quarter cartridge wasn’t used.
Moving on, Gannon said he felt bad for Potter after the shooting and still does. He then reiterates Luckey should’ve moved Wright to the back of the car to arrest him but Wright looked like he was going to comply and it would’ve been something for Potter and Luckey to go over after the arrest. Gannon said, from what he’s seen, Wright "was not in control of his vehicle at the time that she would be deploying the Taser." He then agrees if Wright was in control of the vehicle, a Taser wouldn’t have been a good idea.
Frank asks, "Is it consistent in your opinion, with policy and practice, for an officer to know they have their firearm in their hand when they should?" Gannon responds, "You’re correct."
At 2:22 p.m., Gray takes over again and asks if Gannon would lie under oath to protect a friend. He responds, "Sir, there’s a reason why I’m an ex-chief. Nobody gets me to say something or do something that I don’t believe in. I wouldn’t lie for anyone."
Frank then clarifies that Gannon is offering his opinions and Gannon agrees.
Gannon is excused at 2:23 p.m.
At 2:24 p.m., Officer Colleen Fricke — a former Brooklyn Center police officer and current Brooklyn Park police officer — is sworn in and Engh starts questioning her. Fricke worked for Brooklyn Center Police from 2008 before moving to Brooklyn Park Police in May 2021. She worked on the same shift as Potter for several years and agreed Potter was a mentor for her. Fricke says Potter was a good police officer. Fricke was also a supervisor on the Domestic Abuse Response Team that Potter was on.
Asked by Engh, Fricke says it "wouldn’t be typical" for an officer to let someone with a warrant leave the scene instead of making an arrest. She stayed with Potter after the shooting. When Potter was in a room in the department by herself after the shooting, Fricke said, "I saw her curled up in the corner of the room" and confirms Potter was crying. As Fricke starts to call Potter a "remarkable person" Chu stops her and sustains the state’s objection, then tells the jury to disregard that comment. Fricke then agrees Potter had a positive reputation in the community and was law-abiding.
At 2:31 p.m., Larson takes over questioning. Fricke confirms she and Potter developed a relationship outside of work and were friends. Fricke confirms she was at the police station when she heard shots fired and responded to the scene. After a couple of defense objections to Larson’s questioning, he calls for a sidebar. After a few minutes, Chu says the objection is sustained and Larson continues.
Fricke confirms she was tasked with watching Potter after the shooting. Fricke confirms Potter asked Fricke to take her bodycam off and Fricke placed it on a table they were at. Fricke then had someone else assist her in watching Potter. After a few more objections to Larson’s questions, Larson says he has no further questions and Fricke is excused at 2:40 p.m. Gray then calls for a sidebar.
The sidebar ends a minute later and Engh is seen leaving the courtroom. Engh returns after a minute and Thomas Hall is sworn in at 2:44 p.m. Hall says he met Potter at his neighbor’s house 11 years ago and is friends with her children. He says he spent almost every weekend with Potter over the past decade. He notes he was in the Army and has since been honorably discharged.
Of Potter, Hall says, "Kim always looked at it as just because I’m an officer who doesn’t give me an opportunity to not have to abide by the laws that I have to enforce. Everybody in this world is expected to abide by the laws or obey the laws that are enforced by herself and anybody else," adding that Potter has "always been an extremely peaceful person."
At 2:47 p.m., Larson takes over. He clarifies Hall’s opinion of Potter is based on his personal interactions with her and not the streets of Brooklyn Center. He confirms and is then excused.
At 2:49 p.m., Frank Roth is sworn in. Engh asks about his career in law enforcement and Roth explains, noting he worked at the Brooklyn Center Police Department from 1991 through August 2015. He was Potter’s direct supervisor for about 10 years. He estimates he supervised Potter for about 18,000 hours and said he considers her a friend. He also supervised her on the Law Enforcement Memorial Association. He calls Potter’s reputation for being law-abiding "sterling" and said she was "extremely peaceful," noting her work on the crisis negotiation unit.
At 2:54 p.m., Larson confirms Roth was friends with Potter. He agrees, adding he does support her and was with Potter when she interviewed with the Star Tribune this fall. Roth is excused at 2:55 p.m.
Engh begins questioning Samuel Smith II at 2:57 p.m. He explains he worked as a police officer in Kansas City, Mo. before moving to Brooklyn Center and working for the department there starting in 2014. He continues to work at the Brooklyn Center Police Department. He says he got to know Potter through working different shifts with her. Smith says Potter "is well-respected and very peaceful and she was very professional from when I worked with her." He adds that she was law-abiding and has coached and calmed him down in the past.
Larson steps up at 3 p.m. and asks Smith to clarify his comments about Potter and Smith says he’s referring to Potter’s reputation both in the law enforcement community and the Brooklyn Center community. Smith is excused at 3:02 p.m.
After a one-minute sidebar, Chu tells the jury "we’re almost done" with just two witnesses left for Friday. She then dismisses jurors for the day.
After the jurors leave, Engh submits a video as a court exhibit. He then makes an offer of proof regarding past times Wright skipped court appearances. Engh says it would’ve been used to rebut Stoughton’s testimony that officers could’ve found and arrested Wright at a later time. Chu notes Potter wasn’t aware of those past instances and, therefore, stands by her decision that they shouldn’t have been allowed.
Chu then says she’s going to finalize jury instructions Thursday night and will have them sent to the attorneys. She adds that she will allow an additional instruction on use of force, as the defense had requested.
They adjourn for the day at 3:14 p.m. Court is set to reconvene at 9 a.m. on Friday.