Ex-cop who shot Daunte Wright testifies: Traffic stop 'went chaotic'
Kimberly Potter said that she had not had physical training on "weapons confusion"
By Steve Karnowski and Amy Forliti
MINNEAPOLIS — The suburban Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed Daunte Wright testified Friday that the traffic stop “just went chaotic” after Wright tried to get back into his car and leave.
Kim Potter, who is charged with manslaughter in Wright’s April 11 death, 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 said through tears.
It was the first time the former Brooklyn Center officer publicly spoke in detail about the shooting. Potter, 49, has said she meant to draw her Taser instead of her gun when she shot the 20-year-old Wright during an April 11 traffic stop as he was trying to drive away from officers seeking to arrest him on a weapons possession warrant.
Video of the shooting recorded by officers’ body cameras showed Potter shouting “I’ll tase you!” and “Taser, Taser, Taser!” before she fired once.
Potter’s attorneys 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.
Prosecutors say Potter was an experienced officer who had extensive training in Taser use and the use of deadly force, and that her actions were unreasonable.
Potter testified that she had no training on “weapons confusion,” saying it was something mentioned in training but not something they were physically trained on. She also said never used her Taser while on duty during her 26 years on the force.
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Potter, who was training another officer, Anthony Luckey, said Luckey noticed Wright’s car in a turn lane with the signal turned on inappropriately. The two of them talked a little bit about suspicious activity, and he saw an air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror as well as expired tags.
She said Luckey wanted to stop the vehicle, though she would “most likely” not have done so if she’d been on patrol by herself, citing the lengthy delays for Minnesota drivers to renew vehicle tags at that point of the coronavirus pandemic. But she said after they found that Wright had a bench warrant for a weapons violation, they were required to arrest him because the warrant “was an order of the court.”
She said they were also required to find out who Wright’s female passenger was, because a woman — a different one, it turned out — had taken out a restraining order against him.
Under cross-examination by prosecutor Erin Eldridge, Potter agreed that her use of force training was a “key component” to being an officer. Potter testified that she was also trained on when to use force, how much force to use, and that there was also a policy that dictated what officers could or could not do.
Before Potter took the stand, a witness called by her lawyers testified that police officers can mistakenly draw their guns instead of their Tasers under high-stress situations because their ingrained training takes over.
[RELATED: 3 recommendations to mitigate TASER/firearm 'capture' errors]
Laurence Miller, a psychologist who teaches at Florida Atlantic University, said Friday that the more someone repeats the same act, the less they have to think about it and there can be circumstances during a stressful situation in which someone's normal reactions may be “hijacked.”
The death of Wright set off angry demonstrations for several days in Brooklyn Center. It happened as another white officer, Derek Chauvin, was standing trial in nearby Minneapolis for the killing of George Floyd.
Prosecutors argue that Potter was an experienced officer who had been thoroughly trained in the use of a Taser, including warnings about the danger of confusing one with a handgun. They have to prove recklessness or culpable negligence in order to win a conviction on the manslaughter charges.
Miller said that when a person learns a new skill, memory of an old skill might override that, resulting in an “action error” in which an intended action has an unintended effect.
”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,” he said.
Miller said it happens all the time and is often trivial, like writing the wrong year on a check early in January. There are also more serious examples of action error, such as when a doctor might use an old approach to treat someone even after being trained in a newer one, he said.
The person committing the error, “thinks they are performing one action when they are performing something else,” Miller said. When the intended result does not occur, they realize it, he said.
“If it’s a high-stress circumstance, extremely high arousal” the person is more susceptible to making a mistake that can put their life in danger, said Miller, who said the most typical example of “weapon confusion” is when an officer confuses a gun for a Taser.
He said it is called “slip and capture,” meaning that under a state of high arousal and hyper focus, the ability to choose the correct response slips away and is “captured” by the more baked-in knowledge that a person has had for a longer time.
Some experts are skeptical of the theory. Geoffrey Alpert, a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina who is not involved in Potter's trial, has said there’s no science behind it.
On cross-examination, prosecutor Erin Eldridge read to Miller from a 2010 article he wrote in which he described how police can avoid what he termed “one big mistake.” He wrote that many such mistakes are preventable through proper training and practice.
Eldridge said the term slip and capture has been termed “junk science” and has no foundation in the general field of psychology. Miller said the term is not common, but the theory behind it is.
The defense began its case on Thursday.
The case is being heard by a mostly white jury.