Moments before Daunte Wright was fatally shot by Minnesota police, his mother reassured the young man that he hadn't "done anything wrong" and that "everything would be OK," she told jurors on Wednesday.
A tearful Katie Bryant, 43, was the first witness in the trial of former Brooklyn Center Police Office Kim Potter, who killed Wright during a traffic stop on April 11.
After Wright was pulled over by police, he called Bryant over the Facebook Messenger app so she could explain the insurance status of the car he was driving, Bryant said.
"He sounded nervous, scared. 'You haven't done anything wrong,'" she recalled telling her son. "He sounded really nervous. I reassured him that it would be OK."
The line disconnected a short time later and when Bryant called back, via FaceTime, Wright's girlfriend picked up and told her he'd been shot.
Bryant said she rushed to the scene and saw a body under a sheet and recognized the sneakers protruding out as her son's shoes.
Despite hours of waiting, Bryant said police never allowed her to get close to Wright's body.
"I wanted to comfort my baby," the tearful mother told Minneapolis jurors. "I wanted to hold him and I wanted to protect him because that's what mothers do, you protect your children. You make sure that they're safe."
Bryant's testimony came after Assistant Attorney General Erin Eldridge said in opening statements that Potter had betrayed the "public faith and public trust" vested in her when she fatally shot Wright.
Eldridge raised her right arm and recited the oath taken by Brooklyn Center police officers, and then accused defendant Potter of violating that vow on when she came upon Wright at a traffic stop.
"This is the oath of a Brooklyn Center police officer," Eldridge told jurors. “This is the standard they hold themselves to and they take an oath to so. Their duty to their badge and to the community is to protect life, not to take life.”
The prosecutor added: "The badge is a symbol of public faith and public trust and the officers are each responsible for their own professional performance."
Potter has pleaded not guilty to first- and second-degree manslaughter charges in the death of Wright, a Black man she fatally shot during the traffic stop in suburban Minneapolis.
A conviction on first-degree manslaughter would mean Potter improperly used “such force and violence that death of or great bodily harm to any person was reasonably foreseeable.”
The second-degree manslaughter charge alleges that Potter’s “culpable negligence” created “unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another.”
The charges carry a maximum sentence of 15 years and 10 years in prison, respectively.
Defense attorney Paul Engh, in his opening statement, put blame for the deadly confrontation squarely on Wright's shoulders.
He said body-camera video will show how Potter told Wright multiple times she would use non-lethal force if he didn't submit to their efforts to arrest him on an outstanding bench warrant.
“She said, 'I’ll tase you, I’ll tase you.' The language was direct. It was clear. It was unmistakable," Engh said. "And all Mr. Wright had to do was stop."
The killing of Wright by Potter, who is white, happened about 10 miles away from the courthouse where former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was on trial for the slaying of George Floyd.
Days later, Chauvin, who is white, was convicted of second- and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter, in the May 25, 2020, killing of Floyd, a Black man, whose death touched off a summer of national protests calling for an end to institutional racism.
Potter’s trial is being held in the same 18th floor courtroom where Chauvin was tried and convicted.
Wright was pulled over in Brooklyn Center due to an air freshener dangling from the rear-view mirror, prosecutors said.
When officers tried to arrest him on an outstanding warrant, a struggle ensued and body camera footage appeared to record Potter repeatedly yelling “Taser!”
But a single gunshot was fired and she could be heard saying, "Holy s---, I just shot him,” as the car pulled away, according to footage.
The indictment quoted her as saying she grabbed the wrong gun.
"We trust them (police officers) to know wrong from right and left from right," Eldridge said. "This case is about an officer who knew not to get it dead wrong, that she failed to get it right."
She added: "This case is about defendant Kimberly Potter betraying her badge and betraying her oath and betraying her position of public trust on April 11 this year. She betrayed a 20-year-old kid."
Potter's defense said the fault was Wright's for fighting the arrest for an alleged misdemeanor weapons violation.
"He was told he was arrested on a warrant. He resisted. She said, ‘I’ll tase you.’ All he had to do was surrender. But that wasn’t his plan," Engh said.
"He continued on with his struggle and five seconds later she says, ‘Taser, Taser, Taser,’ and you’re going to remember those three words for the rest of your life."
The defense will also argue that Potter feared for the life of Sgt. Mychal Johnson, who had reached into Wright's car in hopes of grabbing the gear shift to prevent him from driving away.
"She can't let him leave or he's going to kill her partner and so she goes 'Taser, Taser, Taser' and she pulls the trigger believing that it was a Taser," Engh said.
The prosecution countered that there's no reasonable explanation for Potter to have mistakenly grabbed her Taser, which she got by reaching across her body to take it from a holster on her left — her non-dominant side.
The Glock used to kill Wright weighed 2.11 pounds, compared to the .94-pound Taser which emanates lights and needed a safety switch to be pulled before use, according to Eldridge.
"There’s no do over when you take a young man’s life," the prosecutor said. "On April 11, she betrayed her badge and she failed Daunte Wright."
The defense insists that Potter needed to use force against Wright, who they say was resisting, and that she was not consciously aware that she was holding a gun, and not a Taser, when she pulled the trigger.
"He had to be arrested, on the warrant, a court of law directed him (Officer Anthony Luckey) to arrest him," Engh said, pounding his fist on the podium. "Theres nothing to do with a license tag. It has to do with a court order from this district."
A police officer accidentally using his or her Taser instead of a gun is a rare but not completely unheard of event. Wright's slaying brought immediate comparison to Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Black man killed Jan. 1, 2009, on a commuter train platform in Oakland, California.
Bay Area Rapid Transit Officer Johannes Mehserle shot Grant in the back as another officer pinned his knee on Grant’s head. Mehserle, who said he believed he was reaching for his Taser, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and served 11 months behind bars.
The story was adapted into the 2014 film “Fruitvale Station,” directed by Ryan Coogler and starring Michael B. Jordan.