“Duh, I Thought It Was My Taser” – The Murder of Daunte Wright

duante wright killing

I’m sitting here scratching my head wondering how 25-year veteran police officer, Kim Potter, can mistake a gun for a taser. 

“Potter has worked for the department for nearly 25 years and is president of the Brooklyn Center Police Officer’s Association. In that role, she has represented other officers involved in deadly shootings.”

The body cam footage is graphic, chaotic, and notable that three white officers  pulled over the clean late model car driven by a young black male. I can’t help but think this is yet another example of a consciously unconscious ambush by racist cops who may be pissed off that one of their own is on the chopping block for George Floyd. https://www.kare11.com/video/news/local/brooklyn-center-police-body-camera-footage-captures-fatal-shooting-of-daunte-wright/89-ab01fe4b-ab85-4ab0-b5dc-9f3afc9f171a

Is it that easy to confuse a gun and a taser? I can’t imagine. I think she needs an out. It has happened before but it shouldn’t. 

“In a well-publicized 2009 case, a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer fired his gun instead of his Taser, killing 22-year-old Oscar Grant in Oakland, California.”

“The former officer, Johannes Mehserle, testified that he had meant to use his Taser but drew his gun instead. Mehserle was sentenced to two years in prison for involuntary manslaughter but was released early due to good conduct.”

Was she distracted in the commotion of the moment and wanted to be the “hero” cop who got the bad guy for air freshener? That would win her a few beers at the pub later that night and a few fist bumps. Or is she completely inept? What are the chances that this was a simple tragic mistake?

Let’s look at these considerations:https://www.cnn.com/2015/04/14/us/taser-gun-confusion

“Law enforcement experts say the gun should be holstered on the officer’s dominant side of the body, and the Taser should be placed on the nondominant side. So if an officer is left-handed, the gun should be on the left side.”

Or did she fall “victim” to something called “slip and capture”? 

“That’s when a person intends to do one thing but instead does another in a high-stress situation.”

But, if it was “slip and capture”, she’s screwed. 

“But a criminal justice expert told CNN the claim amounts to “junk science.”

“There’s no peer-reviewed articles that would support this. … It’s not generally accepted by the scientific community,” said Phil Stinson, an assistant professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University. “So it’s something that in most courts would not be admissible as evidence.”

She also can’t say that the two guns feel the same. That won’t hold water either. And she’s been on the force a lifetime – 25 years is not a rookie.

“Tasers are built to feel and look different than guns, according to Taser International.”

“Steve Tuttle, vice president for strategic communications at Taser, noted some of those differences to CNN: A gun is heavier. A Taser has a different grip and feel. When you take the safety off on a Taser, an LED control panel lights up.”

“There’s more: Tasers can be different colors (yellow or black), and the holster is different from a gun’s.”

“But in the field, where an officer reacts on instinct, there are other distinctions outside of the product itself that are important, Tuttle said.”

“Taser’s training calls for the stun gun to be placed on an officer’s nondominant side, as law enforcement experts say. And its training suggests that officers shout aloud, “Taser! Taser! Taser!” as they prepare to deploy it.”

“These guidelines are designed so that in the moment – when an officer’s muscle memory kicks in – the body reflexively knows which weapon it is reaching for.”

However one crucial point is how “individual police departments train their officers in regulations and placement of the taser on the officers’ body”. Perhaps there is more liability here than meets the eye. 

Now that we have watched the bodycam video and have a little background on tasers we can better decide for ourselves if this was the “accidental discharge” that the Brooklyn Center Police Chief claims it to be. 

What I question is why did they have such a hard time putting the handcuffs on him? He was not that husky. I almost got the feeling they wanted him ‘not’ to be cuffed so that he could ‘resist’  and attempt to get back in his car to give the cops a reason to use force. I am hard pressed to hear the word taser being shouted. The sound was not very clear. And she could have shouted it to cover her ass knowing she was pulling her gun and not her taser. 

“This was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr. [Daunte] Wright,” Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon said during a Monday press conference where body-camera footage of the shooting was released. He noted that the “very senior officer” involved shouted “Taser, Taser!” during the arrest, apparently unaware that she’d pulled out her handgun when she fired the single shot that killed the 20-year-old man.”

“During the chaotic struggle, an officer pulls out a gun and shoots Wright as he’s sitting in the driver’s seat. The officer can be heard yelling “Taser, Taser!” during the footage, before saying: “Holy shit, I shot him.” 

Holy shit, something stinks in Brooklyn Center! What stinks is why the default instinct is for cops to pull a weapon? Was this an accident? I personally do not think so. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner  “ruled” his death a homicide saying that the cause of death was a gunshot wound to the chest. Although classification is “not a legal determination of culpability or intent.”

I think there was an unconscious bias on the part of three white cops against this young black man – no this was not even a man – he was barely a man. He was more a teen than a man. I have a 20-something son and my heart is hurting for Daunte’s mother. Daunte Wright was at the beginning of his life’s journey and that journey was taken away from him for what? Air freshener and an outstanding warrant? 

First it was air freshener and then it was insurance. Wright’s mother heard most of it, or all of it,  and that trauma can never be forgotten or forgiven.

“Katie Wright told reporters about the Sunday afternoon shooting: “All he did was have air fresheners in the car and they told him to get out of the car.”

“Ms Wright said: “He called me at about 1:30. He said he was getting pulled over by the police. And I said why you getting pulled over. And he said they pulled him over because he had air fresheners hanging from his rear-view mirror. I said, ‘OK take them down.'”

“She added to local TV station KSTP: “He said, ‘Mom, they want to know about insurance.’ I said, ‘When the police officer comes back to the window, put them on the phone and I will give them the insurance information.’”

“Then I heard the police officer come to window and say, ‘Put the phone down and get out of the car’ and Daunte said, ‘Why?’ He said, ‘We’ll explain to you when you get out of the car.'”

“She said that she heard scuffling, the phone falling and an officer saying, “Daunte, don’t run,” before the end of the call. She called back and Duante Wright’s girlfriend answered and said that he had been shot dead.”

What is even more devastating is that Daunte Wright was the father of a 2-year- old. 

“Daunte Wright also had a 2-year-old, his father told the newspaper. He said Wright dropped out of high school because of a learning disability but worked various retail and restaurant jobs to support his son.”

“He was a great kid,” Wright told the Post. “He was a normal kid. He was never in serious trouble. He enjoyed spending time with his 2-year-old son. He loved his son.”

Now that baby boy will never know his father. What he will know is that a trigger happy cop made a “mistake”; that a trigger happy cop did not have enough wherewithal to take a split second to show a duty of care to make certain that the gun fired was in fact a taser if that was the intention. But, perhaps the duty of care the police need to use is not to use excessive force in the first place. Just like Derek Chauvin owed George Floyd a duty of care as soon as George Floyd spoke those three words, “I can’t breath”. 

Stay tuned for my next article on the topic of ‘duty of care’

Author: Sherri Margolin (Dark Matters)

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