KSTP / Associated Press contributed to the report
Updated: December 17, 2021 05:03 PM
Created: December 17, 2021 10:40 AM
MINNEAPOLIS — Former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter says she didn’t plan to use deadly force when she shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop. Under questioning by a prosecutor Friday, Potter sobbed as she said, “I didn’t want to hurt anybody.” Potter testified that the traffic stop “just went chaotic” after Wright tried to get back into his car and leave.
Potter, who is charged with manslaughter in Wright’s April 11 death, testified that she saw a look of fear on another officer’s face before she fired.
She has said she meant to use her Taser instead of her gun to stop Wright from fleeing while officers were trying to arrest him on an outstanding warrant.
The Minnesota police officer on trial in the shooting death of Daunte Wright has taken the stand Friday, hoping to persuade jurors to acquit her of manslaughter charges in what she has said was a gun-Taser mixup.
Kim Potter’s police chief at the time she shot and killed Daunte Wright testified Thursday at her manslaughter trial.
Tim Gannon called Potter “a fine officer” and said he “saw no violation” of policy in Potter’s actions at the scene.
Here are the court proceedings from Friday. Court is scheduled to reconvene at 9 a.m.
Court reconvened at 9:05 a.m. and the defense called Dr. Laurence Miller. He and defense attorney Paul Engh go over Miller's education and experience. He notes he got his doctoral degree in psychology and has specialties in forensic psychology, neuropsychology and police psychology. Miller notes he's an adjunct professor at Florida Atlantic University. He agrees he was retained by the defense in this case for a flat fee of $30,000.
Engh asks Miller how skills and knowledge is learned. Miller notes "most of what we do on a daily basis really occurs on an automatic level" and explains how the brain gets to that automatic level. He adds, "the more you do something, especially if it's the same kind of thing, over and over and over again, the less you have to consciously think about it again, nature builds that into our brains because that enables us to have efficiency of operation."
Miller then explains the terms "system one thinking" and "system two thinking." He says, "just to use drivings as an example, if you're driving down the road, and it's a route you've taken before and you're not thinking about and suddenly the road is closed or a car cuts you off, now you're focused on something different. You've got to engage your conscious, deliberative process and figure out what to do in that novel situation. And that takes a little more time. And in most cases, it's done successfully, but there may be circumstances where if the focus is so intense, and the stress factor is so intense that that system two type of thinking may become hijacked and superseded by the system, one thinking that has been an operation for the longest period of time."
Engh asks if that can happen in firearms training. Miller says yes but the state objects to stop his testimony about what officers involved in shooting often say. Engh then asks Miller to explain "action error." Miller says it's when "you intend to do one thing, think you're doing that thing but do something else and only realize later that the action that you intended was not the one you took." Miller says they can occur frequently, such as writing the previous year on a check or paper despite knowing the current year. "It was that old action program coming back for that moment because your attention was distracted while you were intending to do something else," Miller adds.
Miller confirms action errors can be much more serious, such as in medical personnel in critical circumstances, noting it has occasionally happened. Asked by Engh if the person committing the action error understands what they're doing while doing it and Miller responds, "Well, that's what makes it an error during the action itself. The person thinks that they are performing one action when they're performing something else."
Miller explains factors that contribute to action errors, highlighting extreme stress, hyperfocus and distraction. Miller then explains cases of action error involving a flashlight and baton or Taser and firearm, saying, "the point is, it's not the object meaning, there's nothing wrong with that person's perception of the two objects in front of them, they can easily tell the difference, but the perception isn't working. It's offline."
Engh then asks about optimum arousal level and Miller explains, to do something well, people need to be "a little bit pumped up" and can't be too laid back but also can't be too aroused "to the point where it starts becoming a fear or agitation or panic," saying it's what people commonly refer to as "choking under pressure."
Engh then specifically asks about factors contributing to action error in law enforcement. Miller says extreme stress is common in critical incidents, particularly "where there is some credible threat to the safety of life of a police officer of a citizen by standards, and that requires an immediate response." Miller adds that weapon confusion is a subset of action error and notes it's sometimes called a "slip and capture" error because the stress makes the ability to pick the correct response slip away. Miller says it's possible for an officer to experience if a citizen doesn't respond as expected, such as disobeying a command, resisting arrest or fleeing. In traffic stops, Miller says risk factors are the same but can also include outstanding warrants, stolen vehicles, etc., saying, "these are all factors that sort of build up cumulatively in the first responders mind. The reason is because first responders know that there have been circumstances with this has led to the death or injury of police officers and the citizens and so the radar is likely to be on high alert in these circumstances."
Engh moves on to officers' memory or action errors and Miller notes many don't have a good recall of those situations, saying, "it's not a matter of not retrieving the information. Remember, the information didn't get in in the first place. You were focused on something else."
At 9:52 a.m., Assistant Attorney General Erin Eldridge takes over questioning Miller. Eldridge notes Miller primarily works with police officers and departments in his consulting and still works with some, which he confirms. He's also a columnist for Police1. He agrees he primarily testifies in court cases on behalf of police officers. Miller says he reviewed a lot of files in this case but didn't include them all in his report because they weren't all relevant in forming his opinion. He agreed that a lot of his reported was based on his interview with Potter.
Eldridge then asks more about "system one" and "system two," noting that many things are learned in childhood. Miller says some, agreeing that would include things like knowing left from right. Miller agrees law enforcement is a stressful job and managing stress is an important part of the job. He says determining use of force is more of tactical training for officers. Eldridge asks about an article Miller wrote on understanding an officer's reaction to "that one big mistake." He agrees that some of those "one big mistakes" are preventable. Eldridge notes his article says "many of these mental choke points are preventable through the use of proper training and practice," including with firearms, confrontations and conflict resolution. Miller agrees he wrote that but notes "the whole concept that we're discussing today is despite training, and in fact relies on training that certain types of training may become more prominent than others."
Eldridge asks if acting impatiently or too quickly can affect the outcome of a situation and Miller pushes back that quickly and impatiently aren't synonymous. She follows by noting officers are training to manage stress and suppress certain behaviors under stress, when necessary, and stops Miller short before he explains in great depth. He agrees that training and experience have a lot to do with how someone responds to a stressful situation.
Eldridge asks about "slip and capture" and says that's been adopted by law enforcement and isn't generally accepted in the field of psychology at large. Miller agrees those in the field of policing coined it. He notes that "the term may not (have foundation in psychology) but the concept certainly does." He also pushes back on Eldridge saying there isn't much peer-reviewed research on law enforcement stress and firing weapons. He also agrees weapon focus is essentially an officer focusing on the threat and not registering what those around them are doing or saying.
She then asks about mitigation for action errors and says there are systems to prevent action errors in many professions but Miller says they're "not as well developed in law enforcement yet." He agrees that design and color differences in Tasers and guns as well as carrying them on opposite sides are ways to reduce action errors, as can frequent practice handling them.
After a nearly eight-minute sidebar, Chu sustains a defense objection and Eldridge continues by asking Miller about video he watched in the case. The defense objects and Eldridge has nothing further.
At 10:25 a.m., Engh steps back up and asks Miller if action error still happens despite training. Miller agrees. Engh asks how many deaths occur from action errors every year and Miller says one source estimates over 1 million per year.
At 10:27 a.m., Eldridge asks how many action errors in medicine are fatal. Miller says he doesn't know. He adds that very few planes fall out of the sky every day. He's then excused at 10:28 a.m. Chu then dismisses jurors for a 20-minute morning break.
After they leave, Chu says the sidebar was talking about her prior ruling that nobody could say "slip and capture" is what happened with Potter and the state will be allowed a rebuttal witness. She also leaves open the door that Miller could be recalled. They then leave at 10:31 a.m.
The jury returns at 10:57 a.m. and the defense calls Potter to take the stand. Gray then starts questioning her. Gray starts by asking about her marriage and husband, and Potter notes they've been married for over 25 years. She adds that her husband, Jeff, is a retired police officer who now works for a health care system. She also notes she has two boys, one of whom is an active duty Marine. She goes over more of her family details and education history, noting she met a police officer whose name she still remembers coming to her elementary school. "He really influenced me as a youngster that the police are good people and I wanted to be something like that someday," she said. She adds that she was a school patrol officer in junior high. She says she also was an explorer, learning about law enforcement jobs.
She continues going over her education and says she interned at the Columbia Heights Police Department and was assigned to an officer in the community-oriented policing program. After graduating college, she went to a 10- or 12-week police skills program in 1994. She was also a security guard at Anoka State Hospital before starting at the Brooklyn Center Police Department in February of 1995. Gray asks why she stayed a patrol officer her entire 26-year career at the department and she says "I liked my work. I enjoyed working with community. I didn't want to be in an administrative role."
Potter estimates she was a field training officer for 10-15 years. "I felt that I had knowledge and mentorship that I could help young officers develop into somebody I would want to work with and my partners would want to work with," she says. She notes she was an explorer advisor for the Boy Scouts of America program she was in. She estimates she was on the Domestic Abuse Response Team for 10-12 years. She then explains being a crisis negotiator and being on the Law Enforcement Memorial Association Honor Guard. She notes 99% of the Honor Guard work was funerals for law enforcement line-of-duty deaths. She also did presentations on crime prevention.
Gray asks if she ever received any complaints about abusing her power or any complaints from the public. She says "no" to each. She confirms she attended all required training sessions and paid attention. She says about 80% of the training was on firearms. "We spent a lot more time on firearms than we did on Taser." Gray asks more about Tasers and Potter says she got the Taser 7 on March 26, according to the court proceedings. Potter says she doesn't recall ever deploying her Taser, although she'd taken it out "on rare occasions."
As Gray focuses on the Taser colors and prepares to show the Tasers, the state objects and calls for a sidebar. After a couple of minutes, Chu sustains the objection and Gray asks Potter if she remembers the Taser she had before the Taser 7 being all yellow; she confirms. Gray moves on to thw Taser warning forms that have been shown and she confirms she got those at annual training but doesn't remember the warnings. She says she'd heard weapon confusion mentioned but there's not specific training on it.
On April 11, Potter recalls how the day started. They then start walking through Wright's stop. Potter says Luckey noted Wright's wrong blinker being on and they "discussed a little bit of suspicious activity," saying Luckey also noticed the air freshener and wanted to stop Wright. Gray asks if she was working alone if she would've stopped Wright. The state objects and gets Gray angry but Chu overrules them. Potter then says she most likely wouldn't have stopped Wright because, during COVID-19, the DMV was offline and many people didn't have up-to-date tabs so they weren't strictly enforcing those things.
After Luckey stopped Wright, she explains standing on the right, rear corner of Wright's car while Luckey made contact with Wright. She confirms that traffic stops are dangerous because "you don't know who you're stopping" or if they have guns. When they went back to the squad, Potter confirms Luckey called for another officer and Sgt. Johnson responded. Potter explains the correction she gave Luckey to run Wright's information. She says Wright's weapons warrant raised concerns Wright would have a weapon on him or in the vehicle, noting she's found guns in stops before. She also confirms Luckey noted he saw some evidence of marijuana use.
She explains telling Sgt. Johnson about Wright's warrant and says, "The plan was for Officer Luckey to get the driver into custody for the warrant and we further investigate with the female who she was and if she was the petitioner or the subject of the restraining order." She confirms the warrant required Wright's arrest.
As they walked up to Wright's car, she explains the officers' positioning. She says Luckey told Wright to get out of the car a couple of times and Wright wanted to know what was happening. When Wright got out, they told Wright he was under arrest and Potter says she told Wright about his warrant. She says Luckey had Wright put his hands behind his back and Potter saw something in Wright's hand so she took that in her left hand. Then she heard Luckey tell Wright not to tense up, "and then it just went chaotic."
She explains Wright struggling with Luckey, trying to get back into the car. She says, as they were struggling, she could see Sgt. Johnson and Wright "struggling over the gearshifts because I can see Johnson's hand and then I can see his face."
Potter starts breaking down, saying she's known Johnson for years and he "had a look of fear in his face," adding, "it's nothing I've seen before."
She says she remembers yelling, "Taser, Taser, Taser," and nothing happened until Wright "said I shot him," Potter says, covering her face with her hands as she starts crying. She says she doesn't remember a lot after that but knows they had an ambulance for her. She adds she doesn't remember saying anything about prison or why she'd say that.
Gray asks about the climate at the time and the state objects and Chu sustains it. Potter says she just remembers the ambulance and then being back at the police station and Officer Fricke was there. At some point, she remembers her husband arriving. Gray asks when her memory came back and she says probably when her husband arrived, saying, "so much was missing."
She starts crying again as Gray asks if she quit the department and explains her resignation, saying, "There was so much bad things happening. I didn't want my coworkers and I didn't want anything bad to happen to the city." She also confirms they sold their home and moved out of state.
At 11:46 a.m., Eldridge starts questioning Potter about her career and training. Eldridge notes Potter's time as a crisis negotiator and de-escalation skills needed for that. She agrees the job calls for safeguarding life and not using unnecessary force. She also agrees there's a lot of training that goes into being an officer. Eldridge particularly focuses on use-of-force training officer receive and the scenarios trying to being realistic. Eldridge estimates about 1,700 credit hours of training in Potter's career and Potter says she doesn't know the number but that's probably right. They note Potter starting carrying a Taser in 2005. Eldridge displays the policy stating officers train on drawing Tasers and Potter says that's not always true but agrees that's the policy.
Eldridge then starts walking through how Potter carried her Taser and gun and Potter notes she's always carried her gun on her right side and carried her Taser on her left side for many years, although not her entire career. Eldridge starts walking through how the Taser 7 worked, Potter confirms the details and that she was certified to use it. Eldridge switches to the Taser X26P and says they're similar, Potter responds, "similar but different."
The state displays the pictures of Potter taken after the shooting on April 11 and Potter confirms her Taser on her left side. Eldridge then notes the policy requires spark tests and Potter didn't do that always, including April 10-11. Potter says she doesn't know but that's what the documents say and she doesn't dispute it. Chu calls for a sidebar after Eldridge asks about the slow start to April 11 and Potter says she can't remember that or telling Dr. Miller that. A minute later, Eldridge continues.
The state then shows pictures of Potter's gun and Taser from April 11. Eldridge highlights the color difference, which Potter confirms. Eldridge says the Glock is twice as heavy as the Taser and Potter says she doesn't know but that's what was testified to earlier. Potter adds she doesn't currently remember what cartridges the Taser had but she probably did on April 11. She also confirms the department used long-range cartridges in the Taser. Eldridge then points out the differences in her gun and Taser holsters, which Potter confirms.
Potter confirms never deploying her Taser or firearm while on duty but says she drew her Taser before. Eldridge highlights a 2013 incident where Potter drew her Taser when an officer was hanging on a subject's back and says Potter didn't use the Taser because she would've injured her fellow officer and called for help. Potter confirms. Eldridge does the same with a 2016 incident that Potter says she doesn't recall.
Shifting back to April 11, Eldridge walks through Potter's duties as Luckey's field training officer. Eldridge notes she reviewed pursuit policy with Luckey that day and notes it includes not shooting a driver of a vehicle, and Potter notes that's for a moving vehicle.
On the stop, Eldridge notes the stop seemed pretty routine and Potter responds, "no traffic stop is routine," but agrees she conducted many with cars involving air fresheners and expired tabs. Eldridge then highlights what Potter corrected, noting her job was to correct Luckey. She then notes Potter didn't correct Luckey by moving Wright to the back of the car. Potter says, "I wouldn't do that to a rookie in front of a suspect."
Potter disputes snapping off her gun holster while approaching Wright's car so the state puts up a frame from the dash camera video and Potter says it's to blurry to see. Potter confirms she never saw a gun or Wright assault or threaten anyone. She agrees it's not uncommon to find someone has a warrant during a traffic stop. Eldridge notes Wright's car was still running, Potter says she doesn't remember but, after Eldridge reads her statement to Dr. Miller, confirms she said the car was running.
The state plays a few frames of Potter taking the piece of paper from Wright's hands, as mentioned earlier, and then shows a few other frames with her moving the paper to her right hand. As Eldridge plays a couple seconds of the video, Potter shakes her head and closes her eyes briefly, visibly upset. Eldridge continues to point out the paper in her right hand. As Eldridge calls to play the next few seconds, Potter closes her eyes. She winces and chokes up as the video stops right before the gunshot. Gray then asks Chu for a break, Chu asks Potter if she needs one, Potter shakes her head yes. Chu then adjourns court for lunch until 1:30 p.m.
Gray briefly gives Potter a one-armed hug after she steps down from the stand and Engh pats her back.
The jury returns and Eldridge continues questioning Potter at 1:33 p.m. Eldridge notes Potter said she decided to use the Taser because she saw a scared look on Sgt. Johnson's face but told Dr. Miller she didn't know why she decided to use a Taser. Potter says she doesn't recall Miller's report and Eldridge shows it to her. She says she doesn't recall saying that but it's in Miller's report. Eldridge notes after Potter yelled "Taser, Taser, Taser" that Luckey and Johnson let go of Wright and stepped back, Potter says that's what the video shows.
Eldridge moves to Potter telling Miller she remembered seeing the gun in her right hand and Potter, choking up again, said she doesn't remember her interview with Miller. "I was distraught. I wasn't in a good place," she said. Eldridge also says Potter didn't act like she saved Johnson's life after the shooting and Potter again says, "I was very distraught," adding, "I was crying. I was in shock."
Eldridge moves on to an officer's duty to render aid and communicate information to other officers, noting Potter didn't do any of that. Potter, crying, confirms she didn't do any of that. As Eldridge questions her, Potter sobs, "I'm sorry it happened. I'm so sorry." Eldridge says Potter knew deadly force was unreasonable and unwarranted and Potter says, "I didn't want to hurt anybody."
Eldridge asks if Potter knows the difference between her left and right but the defense objects and Eldridge rests. Chu asks if Potter needs a break but she says no.
Gray steps back up at 1:42 p.m. Potter confirms having a Zoom meeting with Miller while in Gray's office and confirms that was the first time she saw any of the video of the traffic stop. Gray shows her what she told Miller and Potter says, "If that's in there, I must have (said that). It's so blurry." Potter says it wasn't routine for her to unsnap her holster because "I'm only 5-foot-3. If I'd get into a fight, I can lose my gun." She confirms she never shot her firearm because "that might kill somebody."
Gray asks if Johnson should've reported the shooting because he was Potter's supervisor and Potter confirms. She also confirms they never got an ID from Wright and it wasn't policy to let Wright go, given his warrant, harassment order and fleeing.
Eldridge comes back up at 1:48 p.m. Eldridge notes Potter told Miller she resigned to protect her family. Potter says she hasn't seen the report but it's true if it's in the report. Eldridge continues with Miller's report, saying she told Miller she doesn't make mistakes and didn't want to hurt anybody.
At 1:51 p.m., Gray asks if Potter had to rely on her partners for help every. She says yes. Gray says Brooklyn Center officers were Potter's second family and she again says yes.
Potter is excused at 1:52 p.m.
The defense then rested its case and the state says it won't call any rebuttal witnesses. Chu then tells the jurors she'll give them instructions on the law on Monday. She then reiterates that they shouldn't talk to anyone about the case or watch or read anything about it.
She dismisses jurors at 1:56 p.m. with court set to reconvene at 9 a.m. Monday.
After they leave, Chu and the attorneys discuss jury instructions. She gives them a half-hour to review the draft and then have further discussion at 2:30 p.m.
Chu and the attorneys reconvene at 2:30 p.m. to go over proposed jury instructions. Frank and Gray are heard briefly arguing about superseding cause but Chu opts to keep that in the instructions. Chu then says she's taking out "affirmative" from affirmative defense language.
Chu then allows Frank to be heard on the state's position about deadly force instructions and hindsight language. The state doesn't want to add an instruction, as Chu had said she would, about not taking hindsight into consideration. Frank states there's already instruction about only deciding based on what Potter knew at the time and another separate hindsight instruction isn't needed. Engh then states the defense insists on the extra hindsight language. Chu decides to keep that language.
Chu also notes the state's objection on any non-deadly force instruction but overrules that, saying the state's own expert made that an issue by saying Taser use was unreasonable.
Chu says she likes the state's proposal on wording regarding Taser usage, saying, "whether the defendant's apparent decision to use a Taser was reasonable or appropriate is not a defense to the charges in this case." She tells the defense they can argue Potter could use a Taser but can't say Potter is not guilty. The defense asks for additional language about executing the legal process, which Chu allows.
The defense calls for a ruling about adding language stating Brooklyn Center Police policies aren't state laws. The state objects but Chu opts to add it.
Chu then thanks the attorneys and says, "I've really enjoyed having you, it was a really well-tried case on both sides." They all adjourn for the weekend at 3 p.m.
KSTP / Associated Press contributed to the report
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