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Prosecutors expect to decide Wednesday whether to charge a white former police officer who fatally shot a Black man during a traffic stop in a Minneapolis suburb, sparking nights of protests and raising tensions amid the nearby murder trial of the ex-officer charged with killing George Floyd.
Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter and Police Chief Tim Gannon resigned Tuesday, two days after Potter shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright. Gannon has said he believed Potter mistakenly grabbed her pistol when she was trying to pull out her Taser.
Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott said at a news conference that the city had been moving toward firing Potter, a 26-year veteran, when she resigned. Elliott said he hoped her resignation would “bring some calm to the community,” but that he would keep working toward “full accountability under the law.”
Washington County Attorney Pete Orput told WCCO-AM that he had received information on the case from state investigators and hoped to have a charging decision on Wednesday. Orput did not respond to a message from The Associated Press. While the shooting happened in Hennepin County, prosecutors referred the case to nearby Washington County — a practice county attorneys in the Minneapolis area adopted last year in handling police deadly force cases.
“We have to make sure that justice is served, justice is done. Daunte Wright deserves that. His family deserves that,” Elliott said.
But police and protesters faced off once again after nightfall Tuesday, with hundreds of protesters gathering again at Brooklyn Center’s heavily guarded police headquarters, now ringed by concrete barriers and a tall metal fence, and where police in riot gear and National Guard soldiers stood watch.
About 90 minutes before a 10 p.m. curfew, state police announced over a loudspeaker that the gathering had been declared unlawful and ordered the crowds to disperse. That quickly set off confrontations, with protesters launching fireworks toward the station and throwing objects at police, who launched flashbangs and gas grenades, and then marched in a line to force back the crowd.
“You are hereby ordered to disperse,” authorities announced, warning that anyone not leaving would be arrested. The state police said the dispersal order came before the curfew because protesters were trying to take down the fencing and throwing rocks at police. The number of protesters dropped rapidly over the next hour, until only a few remained. Police also ordered all media to leave the scene.
Gannon has said he believed Potter mistakenly grabbed her gun when she was going for her Taser. But protesters and Wright's family members say the shooting shows how the justice system is tilted against Black people, noting Wright was stopped for an expired car registration and ended up dead.
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.
Elliott said he didn't have information on the police department's racial diversity at hand but that “we have very few people of color in our department.”
After stopping Wright for the expired license plates, police tried to arrest him on 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 footage released Monday shows Wright struggling with police when Potter shouts, “I’ll Tase you! I’ll Tase you! Taser! Taser! Taser!” She draws her weapon after the man breaks free from police and gets back into the car.
After firing a single shot from her handgun, the car speeds away, and Potter says, “Holy (expletive)! I shot him.”
Wright died of a gunshot wound to the chest, according to the medical examiner.
Protests began within hours.
In her one-paragraph letter of resignation, Potter said, “I have loved every minute of being a police officer and serving this community to the best of my ability, but I believe it is in the best interest of the community, the department, and my fellow officers if I resign immediately."
Wright’s father, Aubrey Wright, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he rejects the explanation that Potter mistook her gun for her Taser.
“I lost my son. He’s never coming back. I can’t accept that. A mistake? That doesn’t even sound right. This officer has been on the force for 26 years. I can’t accept that,” he said.
Ben Crump, the Wright family's attorney, spoke outside the Minneapolis courthouse where fired police officer Derek Chauvin is on trial in Floyd’s death. Crump compared Wright’s death to that of Floyd, who was pinned down by police when they tried to arrest him for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 at a neighborhood market last May.
Daunte Wright “was not a threat to them,” Crump said. “Was it the best decision? No. But young people don’t always make the best decisions. As his mother said, he was scared.”
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