Kimberly Potter, the former United States police officer who shot dead Black motorist Daunte Wright earlier this year, has testified that the fatal traffic stop “just went chaotic” after the 20-year-old tried to get back into his car and leave.
Potter, who is facing first- and second-degree manslaughter charges in the April 11 killing near Minneapolis, Minnesota, said she saw a look of fear on another officer’s face before she fired.
“I remember yelling, ‘Taser, Taser, Taser’, and nothing happened, and then he told me I shot him,” Potter told a US courtroom on Friday.
“I’m sorry it happened. I’m so sorry,” Potter, 49, said as she sobbed and shook on the witness stand. “I didn’t want to hurt anybody.”
It was the first time that the former Brooklyn Center officer has publicly spoken in detail about the shooting. She has said she meant to use her Taser instead of her gun to stop Wright from fleeing as officers tried to arrest him during a traffic stop on a warrant for a weapons possession charge.
The killing brought renewed attention to police violence against Black people in the US, leading to protests and more calls for reforms.
The killing occurred just a few miles north of where Derek Chauvin, a white former Minneapolis police officer, was standing trial for the killing of George Floyd, a Black man whose 2020 death during an arrest set off racial justice protests across the country. Chauvin was convicted of murder.
Potter’s lawyers have argued that she made a mistake but also would have been within her rights to use deadly force if she had meant to because another officer was at risk of being dragged by Wright’s car.
One of her lawyers, Earl Gray, started off Potter’s testimony with basic questions about her family and the roles she held during her 26 years with the police force.
Potter testified that she chose to remain on patrol throughout her career rather than seeking out a desk job because she “enjoyed working with the community”.
“I didn’t want to be in an administrative role,” she said on the stand.
Prosecutors rested their case on Thursday after a week of witness testimony aimed in large part at establishing the extensive training Potter received, which they argued made her criminally culpable in Wright’s death.
“This case is about the defendant Kimberly Potter betraying her badge and betraying her oath and betraying her position of public trust,” Erin Eldridge, assistant Minnesota attorney general, said during opening statements in the trial on December 7.
“Their duty to their badge and to the community is to protect life, not to take life.”
Potter’s defence team began its case on Thursday. Among those testifying was her chief at the time of the deadly shooting, Tim Gannon, who called Potter “a fine officer” and said he “saw no violation” of policy by her in the traffic stop.
Gannon resigned two days after the shooting, saying he was essentially forced out because he would not immediately fire Potter. Potter resigned the same day.
Gannon testified that it appeared to him from dashcam video that Mychal Johnson, another police officer who was assisting in the traffic stop, was “leaning into” Wright’s car. He said it was his opinion that deadly force was reasonable.
Potter and another police officer pulled Wright over because there was an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror and his licence plate tabs were expired. They then learned of an outstanding warrant for his arrest on a misdemeanour weapons charge and sought to detain him.
Potter can be heard shouting, “Taser, Taser, Taser”, on her body-worn camera and video from her squad car before firing into the car as Wright broke free from a second officer and tried to drive away.
A third officer had entered through the passenger side of the vehicle to assist with the arrest.
During cross examination on Friday, Eldridge challenged Potter’s assertion that she shot Wright because she was concerned for the safety of her colleague, Sergeant Johnson, noting that Potter did not act like the shooting was justified in the immediate aftermath.
“After you shot Daunte Wright, you didn’t behave like someone who had just saved Sergeant Johnson’s life. Did you?” Eldridge asked during cross-examination.
“I was very distraught. I just shot somebody,” Potter responded.
“You didn’t run down the street and try to save Daunte Wright’s life, did you?” Eldridge asked.
“No,” Potter said through tears.
The defence rested its case on Friday afternoon and closing arguments are set for Monday.