- State calls its first witnesses, Daunte Wright's mother Katie Bryant and Brooklyn Center Police Officer Anthony Luckey
- Erin Eldridge issues opening statement for the prosecution, Paul Engh makes opening statement for the defense
- Video of Kim Potter's reaction to shooting Daunte Wright played in court
Wednesday, Dec. 8 - Day 1
Opening statements got off to a late start Wednesday morning in the trial of Kim Potter, the ex-Brooklyn Center police officer charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of Daunte Wright, due to last-minute discussions between attorneys in Judge Regina Chu’s chambers.
The discussions resulted in Chu confirming on the record that her previous decision to allow Wright’s autopsy photos to be used in court will stand, despite objections by the defense.
When the trial resumed at 9:45 a.m., Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Erin Eldridge issued the hour-long opening statement for the prosecution, beginning by going over what is expected from officers in terms of ethics and fitness for duty, as well as Potter’s police training. Eldridge presented a photo of Potter wearing her uniform and utility belt to the jury, showing where both her firearm and Taser are normally carried. Eldridge pointed out that Potter had had extensive training on “weapon confusion” and other cases in which a Taser was pulled instead of a gun.
“We trust them to know wrong from right, and left from right,” Eldridge said.
Following the prosecution, attorney Paul Engh opened with statements on behalf of the defense. Engh told the courtroom that in the moments leading up to Wright’s death, she believed his actions could have caused harm to a fellow officer, and while she did pull the trigger on her firearm, Potter “made a mistake” and meant to use her Taser.
“She made a mistake. This was an accident. She’s a human being. But she had to do what she had to do to prevent a death to a fellow officer, too,” Engh said.
Katie Bryant, Daunte Wright’s mother, was the first witness called to the stand by the prosecution. She began by describing her family and other children, then pivoted to describing Daunte.
“He had a smile that would light up a room,” Bryant said.
Eldridge then asked Bryant to describe the events of April 11, 2021, the day Daunte was killed. She gave an emotional testimony, crying as she told the courtroom Daunte called her after he had been pulled over by Brooklyn Center police. She said she heard the first part of Daunte’s arrest, but was disconnected before the shooting. After several attempts to call him back, she said the woman in the vehicle with Daunte, later identified as his girlfriend, answered the phone and said, “They shot him.”
Eldridge then presented never-before-seen footage from a responding officer’s body camera, showing Bryant as she arrived at the scene. Bryant testified that when she arrived, she saw Wright’s crashed car and his body lying under a white sheet.
Earl Gray, one of Potter’s defense attorneys, led the cross examination of Bryant. Upon questioning, she told Gray she was aware that Daunte did not have a driver’s license but was unaware of his marijuana use. She also acknowledged that she didn’t know there was a warrant out for his arrest at the time of the shooting.
Next on the stand was Brooklyn Center police officer Anthony Luckey, who was the officer training with Potter on the day of the shooting. He told prosecutor Matthew Frank that he was driving the squad car at the time, and pulled Wright over for having an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror. He said he also observed Wright’s expired tabs on his car.
He told Frank he could smell marijuana when Wright rolled down the window and confirmed Wright showed him outdated insurance with someone else’s name on it. Luckey then admitted to Frank that he remembered Wright as being respectful, and giving him no reason to believe he had a weapon.
Luckey went on to describe the attempted arrest of Wright, saying as he went to place handcuff him, he “jerked his arm back,” and got back into his vehicle. He said that's when he heard Potter say, “I’m going to Tase you,” before hearing a firearm go off.
The prosecution played the body camera and dashcam videos of the incident multiple times. The jury observed Potter screaming and crying in the aftermath of the shooting, saying she pulled the wrong gun and, “I’m going to prison.”
Engh cross examined Luckey for the defense, asking him several questions about whether he thought Wright had a gun. Luckey told Engh that he always assumes there’s a gun in every car he stops out of safety, but admitted that particular traffic stop was more dangerous than previously portrayed. He said if he were in the same position, he would have fired his Taser.
Pool reporter notes indicated that Luckey did not look back at Potter as he exited the courtroom.
A group of 50 to 100 people showed up outside the courthouse to rally in support of Daunte Wright's family Wednesday afternoon. Among the crowd were family members of several individuals killed by police over the years, including the families of Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake, and fiancé of George Floyd. Organizers said they wanted to give the family a sense of solidarity as they relive the events of April 11.
Court is scheduled to resume Thursday at 9 a.m.
Attorney Paul Engh cross-examined Officer Luckey on behalf of the defense and asked him several questions about whether he thought Daunte Wright might’ve had a gun. Luckey testified that for his safety, he always assumes there’s a gun in every car he stops. Engh got Luckey to admit the traffic stop on April 11 was more dangerous than previously portrayed, and Luckey said that if he was in the same situation he would have fired his Taser. During re-direct questioning by Matthew Frank, Engh loudly objected to several of Frank’s statements.
According to notes from a pool reporter in the courtroom, Luckey did not look in Potter’s direction as he walked out of the room when Frank finished his questioning. Court is expected to start Thursday at 9 a.m.
After a 20 minute break, the prosecution continued questioning Officer Luckey. Frank had Luckey describe for the jury the attempted arrest of Daunte Wright. When Wright was outside of the vehicle Luckey attempted to place handcuffs on him and Wright “jerked his arm back.” Luckey said he also yanked his right hand upward and was able to get back into the car. He testified that he heard Officer Potter say “I’m going to Tase you” before he heard the bang of a firearm. Officer Luckey said he was hit in the face with a projectile from the flash of the gunshot and briefly couldn’t hear because the bang was so loud.
Prosecutors then played the body-worn camera video and dashcam video of the incident multiple times for the jury. In the video, Officer Potter is heard saying she pulled the wrong gun and that she shot Wright. She was seen and heard screaming and crying in the aftermath of the shooting. At one point she was on the ground and said, “I’m going to prison.” Video shows Luckey replying “no you're not.”
The state’s second witness of the day was Officer Anthony Luckey, the officer Kim Potter was training the day of Daunte Wright’s death. Officer Luckey is 31 years old and currently works with the Brooklyn Center Police Department. He grew up in Brooklyn Park and told prosecutor Matthew Frank that he always wanted to work for the Brooklyn Center Police Department. “I grew up there all my life… the streets of Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, it’s basically being home,” he said.
After asking Officer Luckey about his previous police experience and training, Frank asked him about the day of Daunte Wright’s death. Luckey said he was driving the squad car on April 11, 2021 and working with Officer Kim Potter, his field training officer at the time. He was hired by the department in Feb. 2021 and was still in his field training program. Officer Luckey testified that he told Wright he pulled him over for having an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror. He also asked Wright about his expired tabs, which Luckey observed on his car.
Luckey said he could smell marijuana and saw marijuana residue on the car’s middle console when Wright rolled down the window, and confirmed Wright gave him an outdated insurance card with a different name on it. Frank asked Luckey if Wright was respectful, he said yes and confirmed Wright didn’t threaten him or give him reason to believe he had a weapon at that point.
The first witness called to the stand by the prosecution Wednesday afternoon was Katie Bryant, Daunte Wright’s mother.
Attorney Erin Eldridge asked Katie about her family and other children, and to describe her son Daunte. Katie called her son a jokester and said “He had a smile that would light up a room.”
Eldridge presented two “spark of life” photos to the jury, one of Wright holding his son Daunte Jr. at a summer barbecue, and another of Wright soon after his son was born. In the second photo, he was seen wearing a hospital bracelet that gave him access to the ICU, where Daunte Jr. stayed for several weeks/months after being born premature in July 2019.
Bryant then described the events of April 11, 2021. She told the jury her son called her after being pulled over by the Brooklyn Center police. She testified that she heard the initial part of the attempted arrest before the phone disconnected but did not hear the shooting. Bryant testified that she called back multiple times and the female passenger in Wright's car answered and told her “they shot him.”
Eldridge showed the jury body camera video from another police officer at the scene of the moment Katie Bryant arrived.
Bryant testified that she saw Wright's crashed car and his body lying on the ground. She said a white sheet was covering his body, but she recognized his tennis shoes.
During cross examination by defense attorney Earl Gray, Bryant testified that she knew Wright didn’t have a driver’s license and that she wasn’t aware of his marijuana use. She also said she didn’t know there was a warrant out for his arrest. The prosecution objected when Gray asked whether Bryant had a group of lawyers with her when she went to be questioned by police four days after Daunte’s death. Judge Regina Chu overruled the objection and Gray asked Bryant about Jeff Storms and Ben Crump's associate going with her to be interviewed for that interview. Gray ended his line of questioning after asking her, "You were considering a civil lawsuit?" She said yes.
Attorney Paul Engh delivered opening statements on behalf of the defense. He began by walking through the moments before Daunte Wright was shot from Potter’s perspective, telling the jury that Potter saw Sgt. Johnson in the car trying to stop Wright from driving away. Engh said Potter’s belief was that if she did nothing in that moment, Wright could have driven away and substantially hurt or killed Johnson.
Engh said Potter pulled the trigger of her gun believing that it was a Taser after yelling “Taser” multiple times. “Why else would she say it?” he asked the jury.
“She made a mistake. This was an accident. She’s a human being. But she had to do what she had to do to prevent a death to a fellow officer, too,” Engh said.
Engh said that Sgt. Johnson will testify tomorrow, which means the state is calling him as a witness.
The defense then shared more personal information about Potter with the jury. A 49-year-old mother, she's been with the Brooklyn Center Police Department since 1995. She works with the domestic violence abuse task force, the hostage negotiation and crisis teams, is a field training officer and is part of the Honor Guard for fallen officers. Engh said that in her 26-year career, Potter never fired her gun until the day Daunte Wright was killed. She also never fired her Taser.
Talking about April 11, 2021, Engh explained that because Potter was working as the training officer, Officer Anthony Luckey was the one who decided to follow Daunte Wright’s car and pull him over. When Luckey approached the car, Engh says he smelled marijuana and saw marijuana shake, and asked for Wright’s license but he didn’t have one.
"This becomes more than just about tabs, it's about someone who shouldn't be driving a car,” he said. The officers ran Wright’s name and saw a warrant for his arrest on a gun charge, and Engh said Officer Luckey had reason to believe there could be a gun in Wright’s car.
Engh said Luckey noticed Wright “tense up” as he tried to cuff him outside the vehicle, and after that, things got chaotic and fast-moving. When Wright got back into the driver’s seat, Engh said Potter noticed that Sgt. Johnson was also inside the vehicle and could’ve been injured. “At this point he has to be stopped. He can't just drive away. Fleeing at a dangerous speed is a dangerous felony. It is a crime of violence,” he said.
Engh went on to outline some of the witnesses the defense will call to the stand. Those include Timothy Gannon, the former Brooklyn Center Police Chief who lost his job for not immediately firing Potter after he released the body camera video, a police work veteran who will testify to the reasonable use of a Taser, an expert in traumatic incidents in police work who will talk about “action error,” and other character witnesses.
He concluded by telling the jury, “Miss Potter’s good name has been besmirched by this allegation which is not true and the press coverage that has been slanted, we seek to reclaim it. And reclaim it we will.”
Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Erin Eldridge issued the opening statement for the prosecution. In her hour-long remarks, Eldridge went over the Brooklyn Center Police Department oath, code of ethics and fitness for duty requirements, including the requirement “to be alert, attentive and capable of performing assigned responsibilities.” Eldridge highlighted Potter’s police training, and gave the jury a preview of what the state will argue. "She was trained not to shoot an unarmed driver. Not to fire into a vehicle and also trained not to use a Taser on a fleeing suspect,” Eldridge said. “We trust them to know wrong from right, and left from right.”
A photo of Potter wearing her uniform and utility belt, in which you can see her Taser on Potter’s left side, was shared with the jury.
Eldridge then recounted the moments leading up to Daunte Wright’s death. She explained that he was driving to get a carwash with his girlfriend in the passenger seat on April 11, 2021. Eldridge told the jury that the reason for the traffic stop was that Potter and Officer Anthony Luckey, who Potter was training that day, saw an air freshener hanging from Wright's mirror. Eldridge said after they pulled Wright over, they noticed his license tabs weren’t updated. After running Wright’s name the officers saw there was a warrant out for him and decided to make an arrest. Eldridge told the jury that Potter escalated the incident and framed the shooting as having also put Officer Luckey, Brooklyn Center Sgt. Michael Johnson and Wright's girlfriend at risk. Eldridge played never-before-seen squad camera footage of the shooting that showed Potter’s immediate reaction.
Eldridge showed the jury illustrations of the difference between a gun and a Taser and explained how each is used and unholstered. Using photos of Potter taken over the course of several years, Eldridge pointed out how she wasn't doing something new or different. Eldridge also shared part of the Taser training policy that required users to perform “reaction hand draws to reduce the possibility of accidentally drawing a firearm.”
Eldridge doubled down on her point that Tasers come with risks and said Potter was trained on “weapon confusion” and other shootings where a Taser was pulled instead of a gun. She finished the prosecution’s opening statements by showing a photo of Daunte Wright’s “Heart Breaker” jacket and said, “It was the defendant who broke Daunte Wright’s heart when she fired a hollow-point bullet into his chest.”
The start of Kim Potter's trial was delayed by about 45 minutes Wednesday morning because of discussions between attorneys and the judge in her chambers.
Judge Regina Chu confirmed on the record that she overruled the defense's objections of using Daunte Wright's autopsy photos, saying they are necessary for the purpose of describing his injuries.
On Monday, Chu had decided to not allow the defense to show the jury a photo of Daunte Wright holding a gun to counter any "spark of life" testimony, and also ruled on Monday that the autopsy photos won't be broadcast on the courtroom livestream.
Judge Chu also ruled other evidence about bad behavior of Daunte Wright would not be admissible in the case unless Potter was aware of it at the time of the shooting.
Kim Potter faces charges of first and second-degree manslaughter for the April 2021 shooting of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center.
The jury is made of up 14 people, seven men and seven women. Of those jurors, all the men are white, two women are Asian and one woman is Black.
The defense will argue that Potter's killing of Wright was an innocent mistake, and since she thought she was firing her Taser instead of her gun, it was an accident.
Judge Regina Chu said she'll instruct the jury that recklessness in first-degree manslaughter requires "proof of a conscious or intentional act... that creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the actor is aware of and disregards."
She also denied the defense's request to instruct the jury that Daunte Wright was committing a violent crime by fleeing into a vehicle and could have hurt or killed officers while driving away.
Judge Chu will allow limited testimony about Potter's reputation for being peaceful and law-abiding as an officer.