BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. — A white former police officer faced her first court appearance Thursday in the traffic-stop shooting of a Black motorist that has engulfed a small Minneapolis suburb with four straight days of bitter conflict between protesters and police.
Kim Potter, who quit her job on the Brooklyn Center force two days after Daunte Wright's death, was charged Wednesday with second-degree manslaughter in what her chief said appeared to be a case of confusing her Taser with her handgun.
Many protesters and Wright's family members have rejected that, saying either that they don't believe it or that the incident reflects bias in policing, with Wright stopped for an expired car registration and ending up dead.
Potter, a 26-year veteran, was training another officer at the time of the stop. She was arrested and later freed after posting a $100,000 bond.
Wright's death came as the broader Minneapolis area nervously awaits the outcome of the trial for Derek Chauvin, the first of four officers charged in George Floyd's death.
"Certain occupations carry an immense responsibility and none more so than a sworn police officer," Imran Ali, Washington County assistant criminal division chief, said in a statement announcing the charge against Potter. "(Potter's) action caused the unlawful killing of Mr. Wright and she must be held accountable."
Intent isn't a necessary component of second-degree manslaughter in Minnesota. The charge — which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison — can be applied in circumstances where a person is suspected of causing a death by "culpable negligence" that creates an unreasonable risk and consciously takes chances to cause a death.
Potter's first court appearance was expected to be via Zoom at 1:30 p.m. Her attorney did not respond to messages from The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Potter, 48, and Police Chief Tim Gannon both resigned Tuesday, a day after the City Council voted to fire the city manager, who controls the police force. Acting City Manager Reggie Edwards said Wednesday that because Potter resigned, she is entitled to "all accrual and benefits that is due." Mayor Mike Elliott has said that the city had been moving toward firing Potter when she submitted her resignation.
Police say Wright was pulled over for expired tags on Sunday, but they sought to arrest him after discovering he had an outstanding warrant. The warrant was for his failure 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.
Body camera video that Gannon released Monday shows Potter approaching Wright as he stands outside of his car as another officer is arresting him.
As Wright struggles with police, Potter shouts, "I'll Tase you! I'll Tase you! Taser! Taser! Taser!" before firing a single shot from a handgun in her right hand.
The criminal complaint noted that Potter holstered her handgun on the right side and her Taser on the left. To remove the Taser — which is yellow and has a black grip — Potter would have to use her left hand, the complaint said.
Wright family attorney Ben Crump said the family appreciates the criminal case, but he again disputed that the shooting was accidental, arguing that an experienced officer knows the difference between a Taser and a handgun.
"Kim Potter executed Daunte for what amounts to no more than a minor traffic infraction and a misdemeanor warrant," he said.
Experts say cases of officers mistakenly firing their gun instead of a Taser are rare, usually less than once a year nationwide.
Transit officer Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison after responding to a fight at a train station in Oakland, California, killing 22-year-old Oscar Grant in 2009. Mehserle testified at trial that he mistakenly pulled his .40-caliber handgun instead of his stun gun.
In Oklahoma, a white volunteer sheriff's deputy for Tulsa County, Robert Bates, was convicted of second-degree manslaughter after accidentally firing his handgun when he meant to deploy his stun gun on Eric Harris, a Black man who was being held down by other officers in 2015.
Potter was an instructor with Brooklyn Center police, according to the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association.
Brooklyn Center had a 10 p.m. curfew Wednesday, the fourth night in a row that the city has taken that action. Elliott, the mayor, urged people to protest without violence, saying "your voices have been heard."
But for the fourth straight night, demonstrators clashed with police stationed behind a chain-link fence protecting the city's police station. Several hundred protesters filled the street in front of the station despite a mix of snow and rain, chanting "Say his name! Daunte Wright!"
With an hour before curfew, police declared the protest and unlawful assembly and ordered people to disperse, citing objects being thrown at officers and attempts to dismantle the fence — the same reason given for a similar order Tuesday.
Shortly before the dispersal order, some protesters threw objects at police, who responded with occasional gas canisters. Some officers could be seen spraying a chemical on protesters who came near the fence surrounding the heavily guarded station, and officers fired sporadic projectiles. Protesters near the fence formed a wall with umbrellas.
Outside Potter's home in Champlin, north of Brooklyn Center, concrete barricades and tall metal fencing had been set up and police cars were in the driveway. After Floyd's death last year, protesters demonstrated several times at the home of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis officer now on trial in Floyd's death.
Brooklyn Center, a suburb just north of Minneapolis, has seen its racial 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 Hispanic.
However, Elliott has acknowledged that the police force has "very few people of color."