Defense attorneys for the former Minnesota police officer who shot a Black man to death because she purportedly confused her actual gun for a Taser provided a glimpse of how they could argue for leniency when her trial begins next month.
Kim Potter, who was fired from her job in suburban Minneapolis after killing 20-year-old Daunte Wright stemming from a traffic stop over the number of the air fresheners hanging from his rear-view mirror, remains free on bail for charges of one count each of first-degree manslaughter and second-degree manslaughter. And it appears her lawyers are sticking to her main excuse for shooting the unarmed Black man in his car.
According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Potter’s layers are expected to employ one of the following four lines of defense: “Innocent Accident,” “Innocent Mistake,” “Her perceived use of a Taser was reasonable” and “Lack of causation.”
In effect, Potter wants the court and a jury of her peers to believe that she was left with no choice but to shoot Wright with her Taser as he allegedly rebuffed her attempts at an arrest by getting back into his car that was, again, pulled over because of air fresheners.
“What the jury will see and hear about instead is an accident,” Paul Engh and Earl Gray, the lawyers representing Potter, wrote in a court filing that was made public on Thursday. “And a police officer’s accidental shot is not a crime.”
Engh and Gray have also filed a motion seeking to criminalize Wright in death over his alleged drug possession or use before Potter killed him as well as “his “purported gang affiliation,” two things that seemingly lack any relevance to the case that was, again, predicated on a traffic stop because of air fresheners.
Potter’s lawyers said they plan to call a forensic and police psychologist at her trial to explain how cops confusing guns for Tasers is actually not at all that uncommon.
“For Officer Potter, this was a singular and ‘rare occurrence’ … but a mistake did happen,” Engh and Gray wrote in their motion. “A subcategory of action errors are termed ‘slip and capture errors,’ which include cases of ‘Taser/handgun confusion.'”
They added that the forensic and police psychologist was “being called to explain a phenomenon that happens in police work. Whether slip and capture may have caused Officer Potter’s mistake he can’t say; that question is for the jury to decide.”
The defense attorneys are also trying to blame Wright for his own shooting, claiming that his actions in trying to flee during the arrest jeopardized another officer who “might well have been dragged to his death.”
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison — who secured a guilty verdict for the former police officer who murdered George Floyd last year — announced in May that his office would be leading the prosecution in Wright’s killing. Calls for Potter’s charges to be elevated to murder have not been heeded.
Wright was shot and killed on April 11. His death continued the heartbreaking narrative of Black community members who were murdered during interactions with law enforcement. Further anger ignited around Wright’s case after law enforcement officials dismissed his death as a mistake.
As Minnesota Public Radio reminded its readers days after Wright’s killing, “Minnesota is one of a number of states with laws that prohibit drivers from hanging objects from their rearview mirrors on the grounds that the items could obstruct their view. The laws have led to vehement complaints from civil rights advocates who say police can use them as a pretext for stopping Black motorists.”
Potter’s trial is scheduled to start on Nov. 30.
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