Taser expert in Kim Potter trial says Daunte Wright’s fatal shooting was a mistake not criminal act

A Taser expert testifying for the prosecution in Kim Potter’s trial has told jurors in the that, ‘mistakes happen’ in policing and described the former cop as ‘peaceful and law-abiding.’

Brooklyn Center Police Department Sgt Mike Peterson was giving testimony at the start of day six in the high-profile trial as defense attorney Paul Engh stepped up to cross examine the witness who began his testimony yesterday.

On Tuesday jurors in Minneapolis’s Hennepin County District Court heard about BCPD police department’s taser training at such length under direct examination by Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank, that Judge Regina Chu suggested that flagging jurors stand and stretch their legs.

Today, Peterson became the third state witness to bolster the defense’s case that Potter’s use of force was justified and that her shooting of Daunte Wright, 20, was a terrible mistake rather than a criminal act. 

Brooklyn Center Police Department Sgt Mike Peterson was called to testify by the prosecution on the sixth day of Kim Potter's trial Wednesday

Brooklyn Center Police Department Sgt Mike Peterson was called to testify by the prosecution on the sixth day of Kim Potter's trial Wednesday

Brooklyn Center Police Department Sgt Mike Peterson was called to testify by the prosecution on the sixth day of Kim Potter’s trial Wednesday

Peterson, BCPD's taser training officer, gave evidence bolstering the defense's case that Potter's accidental fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, 20, was a terrible mistake rather than a criminal act

Peterson, BCPD's taser training officer, gave evidence bolstering the defense's case that Potter's accidental fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, 20, was a terrible mistake rather than a criminal act

Peterson, BCPD’s taser training officer, gave evidence bolstering the defense’s case that Potter’s accidental fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, 20, was a terrible mistake rather than a criminal act

Potter, a 26-year veteran in the force, claims she accidentally shot Daunte Wright when she reached for her gun instead of her taser during a traffic stop over his expired plates in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota

Potter, a 26-year veteran in the force, claims she accidentally shot Daunte Wright when she reached for her gun instead of her taser during a traffic stop over his expired plates in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota

Daunte Wright, 20, was pulled over for having an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror and expired license plate tags

Daunte Wright, 20, was pulled over for having an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror and expired license plate tags

Officer Kim Potter, a 26-year veteran in the force, claims she accidentally shot Daunte Wright (right) when she reached for her gun instead of her taser during a traffic stop over his expired plates in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota on April 11

Engh pointed out that the taser company’s own warnings and liability waiver pointed to the risks of confusing the weapon with a handgun.

‘It happens,’ Engh said. Peterson agreed.

Engh painted the scenario in which Potter, 49, and her fellow officers found themselves on April 11 when the traffic stop went sideways and ended with Wright’s death. 

He asked Peterson, BCPD’s taser training officer, if a cop would be justified in using a taser under those circumstances.

Peterson replied: ‘If that was a training scenario that was put in front of me, or one I had created, then use of a taser would have been reasonable.’

Under further questioning over the split-second decisions officers must make, Peterson said that they could not be second-guessed with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.

Instead, he said: ‘Mistakes happen in every part of our world…There are too many variables to have planned out in advance to be able to eliminate that.’

The testimony comes after prosecutors suffered a double blow at the start of the fifth day of trial Tuesday when they failed in their bid to bring two motions undermining the credibility and limiting the scope of testimony of law enforcement officers. 

Later in Wednesday’s proceedings, the state’s Use of Force expert Professor Seth Stoughton took the stand to contradict the testimony of law enforcement officers called so far, telling jurors that Potter would not have been justified in using deadly force in her encounter with Wright.

Potter sits with her defense team at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis on Wednesday

Potter sits with her defense team at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis on Wednesday

Potter sits with her defense team at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis on Wednesday

Earlier in the trial, jurors were shown body cam and dash cam footage of the dramatic moment Potter shot Wright dead after 'accidentally' pulling out her gun instead of her taser

Earlier in the trial, jurors were shown body cam and dash cam footage of the dramatic moment Potter shot Wright dead after 'accidentally' pulling out her gun instead of her taser

Earlier in the trial, jurors were shown body cam and dash cam footage of the dramatic moment Potter shot Wright dead after ‘accidentally’ pulling out her gun instead of her taser 

In this image provided by the prosecution shows the difference between a Taser and a Glock

In this image provided by the prosecution shows the difference between a Taser and a Glock

In this image provided by the prosecution shows the difference between a Taser and a Glock 

Potter’s defense maintains that the ex-cop would have been entitled to draw her Glock in a bid to protect her fellow officer, Mychal Johnson, who they have characterized as ‘dangling’ out of Wright’s car and at risk of being dragged, injured and even killed should the car have driven off.

Three of the state’s own witnesses have testified to this opinion.

Potter, 49, is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter in the April 11 shooting of Daunte Wright

Potter, 49, is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter in the April 11 shooting of Daunte Wright

 Potter, 49, is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter in the April 11 shooting of Daunte Wright

But, taking the stand Wednesday morning, Stoughton – who was a state Use of Force Expert at Derek Chauvin’s trial – said that having reviewed all the evidence, ‘The use of deadly force was not appropriate, and the evidence suggest that a reasonable officer could not have believed that it was proportionate to the threat at the time. In other words, use of deadly force was excessive and disproportionate.’

He also stated: ‘I think the evidence suggested that [Officer Potter] intended to use the taser and not the firearm.’

In testimony during which the prosecution seemed to regain lost ground, Stoughton made the distinction between ‘risk’ and ‘threat’ saying that officers were not permitted to respond to risk with force.

According to Stoughton, Johnson being ‘over-extended’ into the car, ‘Certainly has the potential, if the vehicle begins moving to be dragged, ejected, seriously injured, run over by the vehicle that’s always a risk. 

‘It doesn’t become a threat until there’s ability, opportunity and intention.’

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank questions a witness on Wednesday, December 15

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank questions a witness on Wednesday, December 15

Defense attorney Paul Engh

Defense attorney Paul Engh

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank (left) and defense attorney Paul Engh (right) are seen during questioning on Wednesday, December 15

Later on Wednesday, Professor Seth Stoughton (pictured) - the state's Use of Force expert -took the stand to contradict the testimony of law enforcement officers called so far, telling jurors that Potter would not have been justified in using deadly force during the encounter

Later on Wednesday, Professor Seth Stoughton (pictured) - the state's Use of Force expert -took the stand to contradict the testimony of law enforcement officers called so far, telling jurors that Potter would not have been justified in using deadly force during the encounter

Later on Wednesday, Professor Seth Stoughton (pictured) – the state’s Use of Force expert -took the stand to contradict the testimony of law enforcement officers called so far, telling jurors that Potter would not have been justified in using deadly force during the encounter

As it was, he said, Johnson was gripping Wright’s hands right before the shooting preventing him from being able to drive the vehicle.

He also said that Potter’s conduct before and after the shooting indicated that she had no intention of using deadly force, and that no reasonable officer would have used it given the facts before her.

Stoughton did not believe that a reasonable officer would perceive any threat to Johnson, or even the extent to which he was in car.

And he cast doubt on whether Potter could even see Johnson’s position. He said that while bodycam footage should not be mistaken for the perspective of an officer, ‘for the vast majority of the 8 seconds that Johnson was in the car you can’t really make that out at all on Officer Potter’s body-worn camera.’

The proximity of the other officers and a passenger also mitigated against a reasonable officer using deadly force, Stoughton said.

He explained that this was because it is generally accepted that officers miss their targets more than they hit them and known that bullets can over-penetrate and hit others.

In testimony that appeared to contradict his earlier statement Stoughton went onto say that, if Potter had been aware of Johnson’s initial position in the car and not known that he had prevented Wright from driving or that he had pulled out of the car, then the use of deadly force ‘would be proportionate.’

He added however that it would still not be ‘appropriate’ due to the proximity of the other officers and the passenger.

How does an officer use a gun instead of a Taser?

HOW FREQUENTLY DOES THIS HAPPEN? 

Experts agree that such incidents are rare and probably happen fewer than once per year throughout the U.S. 

A 2012 article published in the monthly law journal Americans for Effective Law Enforcement documented nine cases dating back to 2001 in which officers shot suspects with handguns when they said they meant to fire stun guns.

WHY DOES IT HAPPEN? 

Reasons that have been cited include officer training, the way they carry their weapons and the pressure they feel during dangerous and chaotic situations. 

To avoid confusion, officers typically carry their stun guns on their weak sides – the side of their nondominant hand – and away from handguns that are carried on their dominant hand’s side. 

That’s how Potter carried hers, and the chief of her suburban Minneapolis police department at the time of the shooting said that’s how the department’s officers were trained.

WHAT DOES THE DEFENSE SAY?

Defense attorney Paul Engh told jurors in his opening statement that an expert will testify about how in chaotic situations like this shooting, a person’s ingrained training takes over. 

He said Potter had 26 years of gun training, but fewer years of training on her Taser, which is a newer weapon.

Engh said they’ll hear that Potter made an ‘action error,’ the sort in which someone does something while meaning to do something else, such as writing the previous year on a check out of habit, or typing an old password into a computer. He also compared them with errors made under stress by experienced pilots or surgeons.

Source: Associated Press 

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He concluded: ‘The use of a taser was unreasonable and inconsistent with generally accepted practices.’

Whether or not the taser had been successful, he said, its deployment risked turning Wright’s car into, ‘an unguided missile,’ if he stepped on the gas.

In any event, he told the jury: ‘The results are not good for the police.’

According to Stoughton, Wright presented a threat of flight but could easily have been found and apprehended at a later date.

Almost immediately attorneys for Potter objected. 

Judge Chu cleared the court while they made an impassioned plea to be allowed to introduce evidence of Daunte Wright’s ‘prior bad acts’ or move for a mistrial on the back of the expert’s testimony.

Responding to Stoughton’s assertions Engh said: ‘We don’t believe he’s reviewed an inch think file on every time he [Wright] gets arrested he tries to escape, every court appearance he misses, every time he can get away, he gets away.

‘We’ll find him he’ll be arrested, no big deal [as Stoughton testified] is false!

‘And the jurors are writing it down, they’re making notes and we need to rebut the falseness of this opinion.’

His voice rising further Engh said: ‘A false predicate and false fact denies us due process and if you’re ruling is that we can’t ask about it we have to ask for a mistrial and I’ll make an offer of proof of every time this kid has run away and not been found.’

Judge Chu admitted: ‘I do think the jury has gotten the impression that he could easily been apprehended later and there is a basis for believing that he wouldn’t have.’

But she ultimately ruled that the evidence would not be admissible given that Potter was unaware of Wright’s history at the time of the attempted arrest.

In a brutal cross examination Earl Gray made much of the fact that Stoughton had not been a patrol cop for more than 15 years and had little, if any, experience of critical incidents himself.

He often harangued him and demanded that Stoughton answer lengthy questions with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no.’

And he pressed him to agree that it was ‘less than a second’ elapsed between Potter’s warning ‘Taser! Taser! Taser!’ and the gunshot and that Johnson was still partially in the car when that warning came.

On Monday Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison made a bid to question the credibility of police officers’ testimony by bringing Potter’s role as police union president to light.

In a court filing he claimed that the jury could not do their job without an awareness of what he characterized as a source of bias.

In a brief hearing Tuesday morning, Judge Regina Chu dismissed the argument made by Assistant AG Matthew Frank ahead of Day Five of testimony in Daunte Wright’s shooting.

Frank attempted to claim that the testimony of former Brooklyn Center Police Sergeant Mychal Johnson could have been bias even though he was not a union member.

Johnson was called as a state witness Friday but told the court that Potter was not only within her rights to use her taser but that, under the circumstances she would have been justified in using lethal force.

According to Judge Chu: ‘Here’s the problem I see, former officer Potter is no longer connected to the police union in any way so witnesses who are testifying couldn’t possibly be bias to testify in her favor because of her position.’

She concluded: ‘I’m going to find that the question about union membership and officer Potter’s former activities are not relevant to show bias. I am denying the motion.’

Judge Chu went onto deny a second prosecution bid to limit testimony of law enforcement witnesses. 

In a notice also filed yesterday the state sought to prohibit attorneys eliciting what they referred to as ‘expert opinions’ from lay witnesses.

As with the previous motion this seemed a direct response to Johnson’s testimony. 

In this screen grab from video, a photo of a Glock 9mm handgun carried by Potter is entered into evidence

In this screen grab from video, a photo of a Glock 9mm handgun carried by Potter is entered into evidence

In this screen grab from video, a photo of a Glock 9mm handgun carried by Potter is entered into evidence 

Tuesday morning, Judge Regina Chu dismissed the argument made by Assistant Matthew Frank ahead of day five of testimony in Daunte Wright's shooting

Tuesday morning, Judge Regina Chu dismissed the argument made by Assistant Matthew Frank ahead of day five of testimony in Daunte Wright's shooting

Tuesday morning, Judge Regina Chu dismissed the argument made by Assistant Matthew Frank ahead of day five of testimony in Daunte Wright’s shooting

During Tuesday’s morning break Potter officially waived her right to a jury trial on the aggravating factors brought by the state in their bid to secure a longer sentence than the terms suggested by Minnesota state should she be found guilty. 

First-degree manslaughter carries a sentence of up to 15 years but sentencing guidelines mean that, should she be found guilty, Potter would more likely fact a term of seven years.

The prosecution has already filed a motion pushing for harsher sentences in the event of a guilty verdict.

Potter, who quit the force two days after his death, has said she meant to use her Taser on Wright. Potter is white. Wright, 20, was Black. 

The shooting set off days of protests and clashes with law enforcement in Brooklyn Center, just as former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was on trial nearby in George Floyd’s death.

Link hienalouca.com

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