Prosecutors on Thursday rested their case for why jurors should convict former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter of manslaughter in connection with the shooting of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in April.
Asked by Judge Regina Chu is the state had any more witnesses, prosecutor Matthew Frank said “No your honor, the state rests.”
After the jury was sent out of the room, defense attorney Paul Engh moved for a judgment of acquittal, calling the testimony “a confusing mess” after expert Seth Stoughton testified that use of a Taser would have been unreasonable, which Engh said was in conflict with other witnesses, including other police officers, that a Taser was reasonable.
Prosecutor Matthew Frank contended that the bar is high to remove the case from the hands of a jury, and maintained there is “adequate evidence” that Potter acted recklessly despite her training when she fired at Wright.
“If there are conflicting pieces of evidence, that’s for juries to weigh,” he said.
Chu took just a moment and then denied the defense request for acquittal.
Prosecutors called 25 witnesses over the course of six days of testimony, ranging from police officers to Wright’s family members, a medical examiner and policing expert.
Now it’s the defense’s turn to spell out why Potter should not be found guilty of firing her gun and killing the 20-year-old Wright, when she meant to draw her less-lethal Taser and shock him into compliance as she and other officers tried to arrest him on a warrant for a weapons charge.
The defense is expected to call several witnesses, including the 49-year-old Potter, who is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter. If convicted, she faces several years in prison.
Prosecutors wrapped up calling witnesses and presenting evidence on Wednesday, when their a use-of-force expert testified that it was unreasonable for Potter to use a Taser — let alone a handgun — when trying to subdue Wright.
University of South Carolina School of Law Associate Prof. Seth Stoughton said that, rather than use a Taser, police could have let Wright, who slid back behind the wheel as an officer was attempting to handcuff him, drive off. Stoughton explained that Wright was “unlikely to avoid future apprehension,” because his identity was known.
Stoughton did agree with the defense that Potter mistakenly grabbed her Glock handgun, but he added that even the Taser was inappropriate to use on Wright as he sat in the driver’s seat.
“It’s really dangerous to incapacitate the way that a Taser can incapacitate someone who is in a position to get a vehicle moving, You can create an unguided hazard,” he said, pointing out that the pain from a Taser would provide “incentive to flee.”
His testimony led to a combative cross-examination by defense lawyer Earl Gray, who questioned Stoughton’s credentials, experience and conclusion that the three Brooklyn Center officers should have let Wright drive away.
Gray asked Stoughton, who once worked as a police officer, whether he would have heightened concerns about the driver of a vehicle who had an arrest warrant for a weapons charge, as Wright did. Stoughton says he couldn’t answer yes or no.
Gray asked whether the police work on the stop of Wright was OK until he slipped off the handcuffs. Stoughton responded, “I would not describe it as the best tactical approach, no.”
Gray retorted, “You wouldn’t describe it that way, but you haven’t been a police officer for 15 years.”
Testimony culminated Wednesday with Arbuey Wright, Daunte’s 42-year-old father, on the stand, tearfully providing sentimental “spark-of-life” testimony about missing his son.
Shown a photo of Daunte holding his year-old son, Daunte Jr., Arbuey Wright said, “To see him as a father, it was like I was so happy for him because he was so happy. He was so happy about Junior. It was my chance to be a grandfather.”
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