By MOHAMED IBRAHIM and MIKE HOUSEHOLDER for the Associated Press
BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. (AP) — The pressure built Tuesday to fire the suburban Minneapolis police officer who killed a 20-year-old Black man during an altercation after a traffic stop, a shooting authorities said was a tragic mistake but that family members of Daunte Wright and others pointed to as yet the latest example of a broken criminal justice system.
Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott called the shooting in his city “deeply tragic” and said the officer should be fired. Elliott, the city’s first Black mayor, announced Monday night that the City Council had fired the city manager and voted to give the mayor’s office “command authority” over the police force.
“We’re going to do everything we can to ensure that justice is done and our communities are made whole,” Elliott said.
The city’s police chief has said he believes the officer, identified as 26-year-veteran Kim Potter, mistakenly grabbed her gun when she was going for her Taser. The officer, who is white, can be heard on her body camera video shouting “Taser! Taser!”
Wright’s father, Aubrey Wright, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Tuesday that he rejects that explanation.
“I lost my son. He’s never coming back. I can’t accept that. A mistake? That doesn’t even sound right. This officer has been on the force for 26 years. I can’t accept that,” he said.
Wright’s family planned to speak again Tuesday alongside the family of George Floyd at the courthouse where the trial is being held for a former Minneapolis police officer charged in his death. Protests erupted for a second night following Sunday’s shooting, heightening anxiety in an area already on edge as the Derek Chauvin trial progresses. Floyd, a Black man, died May 25 after Chauvin, who is white, pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck.
Chauvin and three other officers were fired the day after Floyd’s death. Potter was placed on administrative leave while the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigates Wright’s death.
The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, the police union, issued a statement Tuesday saying “no conclusions should be made until the investigation is complete.”
Police Chief Tim Gannon on Monday would not say whether Potter would be fired, saying she was entitled to due process.
“I think we can watch the video and ascertain whether she will be returning,” the chief said.
The advent of social media and body cameras has forced police departments to move much quickly than in the past, said Alex Piquero, chairman of the University of Miami’s sociology department. However, he said that before the Brooklyn Center Police Department fires the officer, it will likely review all evidence, including any other body camera footage and testimony from other officers, so that the dismissal is less vulnerable to any court challenge.
“We don’t know why she reached for her firearm instead of her Taser,” Piquero said.
Body camera footage Gannon released less than 24 hours after the shooting shows three officers around a stopped car, which authorities said was pulled over because it had expired registration tags. When one officer attempts to handcuff Wright, a second officer tells him he’s being arrested on a warrant. That’s when the struggle begins.
Potter can be heard saying: “I’ll Tase you! I’ll Tase you! Taser! Taser! Taser!” She draws her weapon after the man breaks free from police outside his car and gets back behind the wheel. After firing a single shot from her handgun, the car speeds away and the officer is heard saying, “Holy (expletive)! I shot him.”
The car traveled several blocks before hitting another vehicle.
Wright died of a gunshot wound to the chest, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office.
Potter has experience with investigations into police shootings. Potter was one of the first officers to respond after Brooklyn Center police fatally shot a man who allegedly allegedly tried to stab an officer with a knife in August 2019, according to a report from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.
After medics arrived, she told the two officers who shot the man to get into separate squad cars, turn off their body cameras, and not to speak to each other. She was also the police union president for the department and accompanied two other officers involved in the shooting while investigators interviewed them.
Court records show Wright was being sought after failing to appear in court on charges that he fled from officers and possessed a gun without a permit during an encounter with Minneapolis police in June.
Demonstrators began to gather shortly after the shooting, with some jumping atop police cars.
On Monday, hundreds of protesters gathered hours after a dusk-to-dawn curfew was announced by the governor. When protesters wouldn’t disperse, police began firing gas canisters and flash-bang grenades, sending clouds wafting over the crowd and chasing some protesters away. Forty people were arrested, Minnesota State Patrol Col. Matt Langer said at a news conference early Tuesday. In Minneapolis, 13 arrests were made, including for burglaries and curfew violations, police said.
Brooklyn Center is a modest suburb just north of Minneapolis that has seen its demographics shift dramatically in recent years. In 2000, more than 70% of the city was white. Today, a majority of residents are Black, Asian or Latino.
Wright’s death prompted protests in other U.S. cities, including in Portland, Oregon, where police said a demonstration turned into a riot Monday night, with some in the crowd throwing rocks and other projectiles at officers.
Associated Press writers Scott Bauer in Madison, Wisconsin, Stephen Groves in Sioux Falls, South Dakota and Tim Sullivan in Minneapolis contributed to this report.
Mohamed Ibrahim is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.