State questions Potter’s decisions in Daunte Wright arrest
MINNEAPOLIS — Prosecutors at the manslaughter trial of Kim Potter sought to build a case that Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter acted unreasonably when she shot and killed Daunte Wright. Potter has said she meant to use her Taser on Wright before pulling her handgun by mistake during the April traffic stop in in the Minneapolis suburb.
A patrol sergeant who was at the scene testified Friday that he was holding Wright’s right arm with both hands in the moments before Potter shot Wright.
A prosecutor pointed out that the sergeant didn’t draw his own Taser or gun, and that department policy says a Taser shouldn’t be used on someone operating a car.
The jury was called into the courtroom at 10:08 a.m. Friday. Judge Regina Chu addressed the snowstorm and assured jurors she’d monitor the weather to potentially end court early if conditions start getting bad.
Former Brooklyn Center Patrol Sgt. Mychal Johnson was the first witness sworn in on Friday with Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank questioning him. He was with Brooklyn Center Police since 2005 and was a sergeant since October 2015. He became Potter’s supervisor in 2019 and said he would occasionally socialize with Potter outside of work after 2019. He now works for Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office after leaving Brooklyn Center Police in October.
Johnson talked about Taser training and how he volunteered to have a Taser used on him once and only once because "it’s not a great feeling." He said it makes you lose control of your body. Johnson added that there’s been "several times" where he’s been indirectly affected by a Taser when a fellow officer stuns a suspect and his fingers were between the Taser probes.
Shifting to April 11, Johnson recalls hearing Luckey say he was conducting a traffic stop and wanted an extra officer for backup, which Johnson said was normal. He then described responding to that scene to provide backup and said, after he arrived, Potter and Luckey told him Wright had an outstanding weapons warrant and an order for protection against him.
They decided Luckey would arrest Wright and then look more into the order for protection.
Johnson said Luckey went to the driver’s side with Potter just behind him and he went to the passenger’s side to get a better view of what’s happening in the vehicle.
The state then plays Johnson’s body camera and dash camera videos from Wright’s traffic stop before they ask Wright to get out of the vehicle. Johnson explains he saw Albrecht-Payton in the passenger’s seat of the car. He also heard Potter make a comment about Wright being one of the Wright brothers and Johnson replies that he doesn’t think so. He explains he then saw part of Wright’s body move away as Luckey went to handcuff him and heard Luckey say something to Wright about not pulling away.
Johnson said he then opened the passenger door and reached into the car to make sure it was turned off and in park so Wright couldn’t drive away. When asked by Frank, he confirmed his feet were always on the ground outside the car. He said he wasn’t sure if the vehicle was on or off but he then tried to turn the key off to make sure.
At that point, Wright was struggling with Luckey and trying to get back into the vehicle, which Johnson presumed meant Wright would try to drive away. Johnson said he then used both hands to hold onto Wright’s right arm to prevent him from shifting the vehicle and to put his arm into a handcuffing position. He explains he then heard Potter yell, "Taser, Taser, Taser," prompting him to let go of Wright’s arm so he wouldn’t get hit or caught between the Taser probes. He noted Wright was sitting in the driver’s seat at that point and was going for the shift knob, so he backed out of the vehicle. He then "heard a loud pop."
The state then plays more of Johnson’s body camera video. Johnson explains the video a few seconds at a time. After it plays through, the state plays a composite video showing both Johnson’s body camera video and the dash camera video at the same time. After finished, Johnson said he didn’t go to where Wright’s vehicle crashed because he saw Officer Salvosa arrive there right as Wright crashed. Johnson added he knew from Potter that she’d fired a gunshot but didn’t know if Wright or Albrecht-Payton had been shot.
He then called out over the radio that shots had been fired and additional help was needed. "I knew that we had two scenes. We did have shots fired and were going to need additional help, no matter what it was that happened," Johnson said. Because he, Luckey and Potter were all involved in the incident, Johnson said he knew he needed somebody else to take over as the scene supervisor and called for help from other agencies because he knew they were going to need more officers than Brooklyn Center had available that day. He then asked Potter and Luckey to sit down and was telling Potter to breathe. Potter is also heard on his bodycam video saying, "Oh God, what have I done? What have I done?"
After Potter says, "I’m going to prison," Johnson is heard saying, "that guy was trying to take off with me in the car." Potter is later heard in the video asking Johnson to call Potter’s union representative. Questioning about Potter’s role in the union draws a defense objection and leads to a sidebar. After a couple minutes, Chu tells the jury to disregard Potter being in a union.
Johnson then took Potter’s gun, put it in his holster to preserve it as evidence and put his gun in Potter’s holster. The state then plays Johnson’s bodycam video of his swapping out his and Potter’s guns and Potter is heard saying, "I don’t know what happened." Eventually, two other sergeants arrived to take over the scene and Johnson told them what he knew. He also assigned two other officers to watch Luckey and Potter and make sure they didn’t get involved in anything else.
Johnson said, before he left the scene, he learned another officer was concerned Potter may harm herself. He said he then removed the ammunition from the gun he’d given Potter so there were no rounds in her firearm. Eventually, after he’d turned over responsibility for the scene over to other officers, he was taken back to the police station and met with investigators for the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and turned over Potter’s gun to them as evidence. Johnson added he never saw his gun again as the BCA kept it.
Frank then says he has no further questions and Chu calls for a 20-minute morning break before the defense cross-examines Johnson.
Potter shook and cried as portions of Johnson’s bodycam video were shown, putting her head in her hands at times. Wright’s mother, Katie Bryant, was also in court and cried quietly as the video was played.
At 11:41 a.m., the jury is called back in. Chu tells the jurors it hasn’t started snowing yet. Defense Attorney Earl Gray then starts questioning Johnson. Johnson said he’s known Potter since he started at the Brooklyn Center Police Department and they’ve become friends "over the past few years." Johnson said Potter, in her review, exceeded expectations and she never received a complaint of excessive force, to his knowledge. Asked about a weapons violation, Johnson said it means "if they had a weapon before, it’s possible they have a weapon again." Johnson adds that being on the passenger’s side of the vehicle was him covering the arresting officer. Walking through the arrest again, Gray notes it was about 13 seconds from the time Johnson told Wright he was under arrest to the time Wright tried to get into the car and Johnson said it sounds right but he can’t be sure without seeing the timestamps. Gray then starts talking about the next six seconds and the state objects. Chu, sounding a bit frustrated, tells the state to keep it to one-word objections or call for a sidebar, which the state then calls for.
After a couple minutes, Chu says the state’s objection is overruled and Gray continues. Gray says about six seconds after Wright first pulls away from Luckey, Potter says "I’ll tase you." He asks Johnson if he heard that and Johnson says "yes," but seems confused when it is and Gray tells him it’s before the time Johnson previously said he heard Potter. Gray continues to walk through the arrest and asks if Wright was still resisting and Johnson replies "yes." Gray asks if the officers are supposed to just let Wright go when he resists and Johnson says no, you try to arrest him. Gray asks if it’s correct to use force if the suspect resists and Johnson again replies, "yes." Gray continues walking through the incident, with Johnson answering "yes" multiple times. Asked if Wright ever stopped resisting before the gunshot, Johnson says, "no." He confirms that yelling "Taser, Taser, Taser" is to warn the other officers. Asked if he’s trained to fire twice if using a gun, Johnson says, "Not every time," but confirms that for using deadly force. He also confirms he was disoriented after the car sped away due to the loud noise of the gunshot, adding that the car took off fast. He also confirmed he was concerned about Potter as she said what she’d done.
Asked what would’ve happened to him had the car taken off with Johnson still inside like he was, he says "probably dragged … injured." Gray says "seriously injured, maybe even dead, right?" and Johnson says "yes." He agrees a state statute allows for deadly force to avoid death of an officer and Potter had a right to use a firearm.
Gray finishes up at 12:03 p.m. and Frank asks about that right to use a firearm, asking if an officer using deadly force needs to consider surroundings, including the possibility of injuring another officer or civilian and Johnson replies, "yes." As the defense objects, Frank looks perplexed and calls for another sidebar. After a minute, Frank rephrases. Johnson says he was "six inches to a foot" behind Wright when the gunshot was fired, as was Albrecht-Payton. Frank notes Johnson did use his gun or Taser on Wright and he wasn’t dragged by the car. Johnson says he stood up right as the car pulled away and he was against the street the whole time. Asked by Frank, Johnson also notes Wright’s car didn’t move until after Potter used her gun. "Inside the vehicle, with such a loud noise, kind of throws your balance off and confuses you a little bit," Johnson said about the gunshot. Asked by Frank, Johnson also confirms neither Wright nor Albrecht-Payton ever hit him and Wright did try to grab the shift knob but Johnson was able to prevent that. Johnson also confirms he was taking a risk by entering the vehicle and alleviated that risk by grabbing the shift knob. Johnson confirms he never saw Wright have a weapon or reach for one. Asking about using a gun vs. a Taser draws another couple defense objections and Frank calls for another sidebar.
After a couple minutes, Chu sustains the defense’s objection and Frank continues. Asked about when Potter said she pulled the wrong gun after Wright’s car sped off, Johnson said, "I don’t know what she was thinking at that time," noting part of that is because he didn’t see the incident from her perspective. Johnson notes he considered Potter a good coworker.
Gray then steps back up and Johnson notes a car can be a weapon and the hollow-point bullets stay inside a person better rather than going through them.
Gray sits down and Frank hops back up to note hollow-point bullets can affect the damage done to the person shot, and Johnson confirms that. Asked about shooting occupants of vehicles, Johnson notes police policy says when a vehicle is moving you could incapacitate the person and cause an accident. Gray quickly asks if the vehicle was moving and Johnson says, "no."
At 12:23 p.m., Johnson is excused and Chu lets the jury leave for lunch, adding she’ll check on the weather.
After the jurors leave, Chu talks to the attorneys about autopsy pictures. Gray asks if they’re leaving court early today and Chu laughs, saying she’s monitoring the weather. She then adjourns court for lunch until 1:30 p.m.
The jury is called back in at 1:35 p.m. and Chu tells them the snow has started and she’ll end court early after one or two more witnesses. The state then calls Brooklyn Center Police Acting Chief Tony Gruenig, a 19-year department veteran, and prosecutor Joshua Larson starts questioning him.
Gruenig explains the hierarchy in the department and the different roles of each. Larson asks Gruenig about investigations in Brooklyn Center and how they work, particularly when involving the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. He explains how officers would preserve a scene and evidence for BCA investigators until they arrive and then convey any related information to the BCA. Officers involved in an incident are brought back to the police department by another officer.
Gruenig said he had a fair amount of interaction with Potter, mostly professional but they also shared a gym and Potter was the union president.
On April 11, Gruenig said he was off but on-call when he learned about an officer-involved shooting. He then contacted Sgt. Johnson who told him Luckey and Potter were involved and that the victim was dead. Gruenig then responded to the scene to be the scene commander until the BCA arrived. When he got to the scene around 2:40 p.m., he encountered briefly Officer Sommers and then took over the scene from Sgt. Johnson and Sgt. Mike Peterson.
After a brief sidebar, Larson continues questioning Gruenig, who says he learned Sgt. Johnson was involved when he got to the scene and Johnson had to be taken back to the police station. He added that Potter and Luckey were already back at the department. Gruenig said he then contacted the BCA and asked them to investigate an officer-involved shooting. After telling his sergeants that the BCA was coming, Gruenig talked briefly to Wright’s mother. He then conveyed to BCA Special Agent Mike Phill what he knew.
After another brief sidebar, Gruenig confirms he told Phill the Brooklyn Center Police Department would open so he could conduct a fair and independent investigation. Gruenig said he remained at the scene until the BCA conducted its investigation at the scene until around 7:45 p.m. Gruenig then confirms the Brooklyn Center Police Department has been open and available for the BCA to conduct a fair investigation.
At 2:06 p.m., Gruenig is excused.
BCA Assistant Special Agent in Charge Charles Michael Phill is sworn in at 2:07 p.m. and Larson then starts questioning him. Phill says he’s been with the BCA for nearly 15 years and currently supervises the Force Investigations Unit. Phill discusses all of his different roles within the BCA in his career. He says there’s about 10 people in his unit.
Phill discussed the BCA’s role and how they help avoid conflicts for other departments by investigating use of deadly force, although the BCA isn’t required to investigate those by law, only at the request of agencies. Phill says the BCA relies on the local agency to protect the scene and evidence, keep outside people out of the scene and bring involved parties and witnesses back to the department for BCA investigators to interview them. Phill estimates he’s assisted on well over 100 officer-involved shootings and been the lead agent for around two dozen. Phill then described the logistics of a typical BCA response to a scene.
On April 11, Phill said he was told at about 2:45 p.m. that dispatch wanted to connect him with Gruenig regarding an officer-involved shooting and got some information from Gruenig, including that one of his officers was involved. He got to the scene around an hour later and was contacted by Gruenig and walked through the crime scene. Phill said he saw Wright’s car, his body nearby with a gunshot wound to his chest, they then got a tent put up to cover his body and then asked Gruenig more about who was at the scene. He then contacted his agents and advised them on what the situation was and introduced himself to a Wright family member.
When the other BCA team members arrived, they collected information and evidence while Phill oversaw their work. They also canvassed the area, contacting people who lived nearby to see if they saw, heard or had video of the incident.
The state then shows a picture of the scene after the tent had been put up and Phill explains what’s happening at that moment. Phill said crime lab personnel with the BCA then focused on Wright’s car, as there was a lot of blood inside it. They also found a fired gun cartridge in the driver’s seat.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office arrived at some point. Phill said the BCA doesn’t touch the body because the are in the custody of the medical examiner. The medical examiner then took Wright’s body and the BCA was able to clear the scene shortly after 7:30 p.m., Phill said. The BCA also got two firearms from Brooklyn Center Police, as well as a Taser and body camera footage.
Phill said the BCA then took evidence back to its headquarters in St. Paul, which included Wright’s vehicle. Phill said the BCA also collected interviews, training records and other documents from Brooklyn Center Police.
Phill was excused at 2:32 p.m.
Chu then adjourned court for the day due to the weather. Before jurors left, she reminded them to follow her instructions about not discussing or watching any coverage of the trial. Jurors were then excused at 2:37 p.m.
Chu and attorneys then went behind closed doors to discuss some points regarding autopsy pictures.
Court is set to reconvene Monday at 9 a.m.