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Former officer Kim Potter says she confused taser and gun when she shot Daunte Wright

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

We're expecting closing arguments Monday in the manslaughter trial of Kimberly Potter. She is the former police officer who shot and killed a 20-year-old Black man, Daunte Wright, outside of Minneapolis earlier this year during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center.

Minnesota Public Radio's Matt Sepic has been covering the trial and joins us. Matt, thanks for being with us.

MATT SEPIC, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: This traffic stop occurred in April. It was already a tense time in the area with the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd just ending. Remind us what happened in this confrontation between Potter and Wright?

SEPIC: Potter, who was on the force for 26 years, was out on patrol with Anthony Luckey, a new officer she'd been training. Luckey spotted a Buick that appeared suspicious, as he would testify later, so he pulled it over. The officers soon learned that the driver, Daunte Wright, had a warrant for failing to appear in court on a weapons charge. When Luckey tried to handcuff Wright, he wriggled away and got back into his car. On body camera video, Potter is heard shouting Taser, but in her hand is a 9 millimeter Glock. She fires a single round into Wright's chest.

SIMON: Potter's defense attorneys say that the shooting was an accident. And when the former officer took the stand on Friday, did she say why she grabbed her gun instead of her Taser?

SEPIC: Defense attorney Earl Gray walked Potter through the incident, and she broke down in tears while recounting what happened. Potter did say that she feared for the safety of a third officer, Sergeant Mychal Johnson, who was inside Wright's car trying to grab the gearshift.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EARL GRAY: You knew Johnson for many years before this. Is that right?

KIMBERLY POTTER: Yes.

GRAY: And by looking at his face at that point in time, what did you interpret it to mean?

POTTER: He had a look of fear on his face. It's nothing I've seen before.

SEPIC: And, Scott, Gray is arguing here that while the shooting was a mistake, it was still justified because Potter feared for Sergeant Johnson's safety.

SIMON: By contrast, what was the picture that prosecutors drew?

SEPIC: On cross-examination, prosecutor Erin Eldridge asked Potter about her extensive Taser training, which warns users not to confuse the device with a gun. Eldridge also pointed out that Wright did not have a gun himself and never threatened officers. Eldridge then said Potter couldn't have been that concerned about Johnson's safety because she never checked on him after the shooting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIN ELDRIDGE: You were focused on what you had done 'cause you had just killed somebody.

POTTER: I'm sorry it happened (crying).

SIMON: And I know it's hard to figure, but how do you think that moment was received?

SEPIC: Well, this is a question I asked Lee Hutton. He's a trial attorney here in Minneapolis who is not involved in this case. Hutton says it's always a risk for defendants to testify, but he thinks Potter helped her case here.

LEE HUTTON: Had she had to go back, she would've done it differently. But with that being said, in some questions, she was able to really testify that she saw her partner in danger, and this is the reason why she decided to use some type of force.

SEPIC: And we'll see if the jury feels the same way after closing arguments wrap up on Monday.

SIMON: Reporter Matt Sepic of Minnesota Public Radio, thanks so much.

SEPIC: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.