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Prosecutors show jurors difference between gun and Taser in Kim Potter trial

Potter, 49, is charged with manslaughter.
/ Source: Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — Prosecutors in the manslaughter trial of a former Minnesota police officer put the differences between her handgun and her Taser on display for jurors, seeking to raise questions about how an experienced officer could confuse the two weapons in the shooting death of Daunte Wright.

The trial resumed Tuesday, with testimony focusing on the police department’s use-of-force policies and procedures that the charged officer, Kim Potter, was required to follow.

Wright, 20, was killed April 11 after being pulled over in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center for having expired license plate tags and an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror. Potter, 49, is charged with manslaughter.

Potter, a 26-year police veteran who resigned two days later, was trying to stop Wright after he pulled away and got back in his car as officers tried to arrest him on a warrant for a weapons charge. Potter is white and Wright was Black. His death, which came while Derek Chauvin was on trial in nearby Minneapolis in George Floyd’s death, set off several nights of angry protests in Brooklyn Center.

The defense has called the shooting a horrific mistake, but has also asserted that Potter would have been within her rights to use deadly force on Wright because he might have dragged another officer, then-Sgt. Mychal Johnson, with his car.

Judge Regina Chu on Tuesday denied two motions filed by prosecutors. One was designed to limit the opinion of witnesses who are not testifying as experts. That came after Johnson last week testified that Potter’s actions were authorized under state law. Johnson was not testifying as an expert on the police use of force.

“I’m not going to preclude any of the officers from testifying that based upon their training and experience, that deadly force or use of Taser was appropriate under the circumstances,” Chu ruled from the bench without the jury present.

Chu also denied prosecutors’ request to question police officers about union membership. They argued that Potter had roles in the union, including as president, that gave her an elevated level of respect among her coworkers. They wanted to ask officers about it so that jurors could evaluate any potential bias toward Potter.

Chu said she rejected the motion because Potter is no longer connected to the police union in any way and testifying witnesses “couldn’t possibly be biased to testify in her favor because of her position.”

Brooklyn Center Police Department Commander Garett Flesland testified Tuesday about the department’s use-of-force policies and requirements for candidates, saying officers must take an oath. The policy says an officer’s fundamental duty is to serve the community, and Flesland said, “I believe that’s the core of what we do. We serve and protect.”

He said officers must have the ability to make effective decisions under pressure, and that Potter was aware of the policies even as they evolved over the years.

On Monday, Sam McGinnis, a senior special agent with the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, testified that Potter’s duty belt had holsters that require an officer to take deliberate actions to release the weapons. The gun holster has a snap, while the Taser holster has a lever. The handgun, which is black, is also twice as heavy as the yellow Taser, McGinnis said.

The Taser and gun have different triggers, grips and safety mechanisms, McGinnis testified. The Taser also has a laser and LED lights that display before it is fired, which he demonstrated for the jury, while the handgun does not, he said.

McGinnis also testified that Potter didn’t perform a function test on her Taser at the start of her shift. Although the Brooklyn Center Police Department’s policy is that officers are supposed to do that, McGinnis acknowledged under cross-examination that he didn’t check to see how widely the department’s officers complied.

Prosecutors asked to have the jurors handle a Taser, but Chu didn’t allow it after Potter’s attorneys objected. Chu said jurors can do so during deliberations if they want.

Earlier Monday, Dr. Lorren Jackson, an assistant Hennepin County medical examiner, testified that Potter’s bullet caused injuries to Wright’s heart and lungs and those caused his death. He said one can survive such injuries for only “seconds to minutes.”

After Wright was shot, his car drove away and collided seconds later with an oncoming car. Any injuries from the crash were insignificant in terms of what caused Wright’s death, Jackson said.

Jurors were shown graphic images of Wright’s body at the scene, as the assistant medical examiner found the body on the ground, with some medical equipment still attached from lifesaving efforts, and some dried blood from the gunshot wound.

They also saw autopsy photos, which Chu limited after Potter’s attorneys objected earlier in the trial. Wright’s mother, who has been present for much of the testimony, was not in court as the autopsy photos were shown.

The case is being heard by a mostly white jury.

State sentencing guidelines call for just over seven years in prison upon conviction of first-degree manslaughter and four years for second-degree, though prosecutors have said they plan to push for longer sentences.