MINNEAPOLIS — A national expert in policing testified Wednesday, Dec. 15, in former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter's manslaughter trial that she was not justified in using deadly force when she shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in April.
University of South Carolina School of Law professor Seth Stoughton did agree with Potter's defense on one of its key points when he said, "I think the evidence that I reviewed is that she intended to use the Taser instead of a firearm."
Then when asked by prosecutor Matthew Frank whether it was reasonable for Potter to shoot Wright with her handgun, Stoughton replied, "The use of deadly force was not appropriate [but] excessive and inappropriate."
Stoughton also commented on whether there was a threat to the well-being of Police Sgt. Mychal Johnson when he was partly in the car with his hand in command of the gear shift and possibly subjected to being dragged should it start moving.
This circumstance during the traffic stop has been a key point for the defense saying that Potter was justified in using deadly force against Wright. But Stoughton disagreed, testifying that once Johnson exited the vehicle after hearing Potter yell "Taser!" three times, "there is no longer a threat of death or imminent harm" should the car take off.
"In your opinion, if a reasonable officer in Officer Potter's position was aware that the warnings about the Taser had caused Sgt. Johnson to back out of the vehicle, would it have been reasonable and proportional to use deadly force?" Frank asked.
"No, because there's no threat of bodily harm, no threat of being dragged by the vehicle once he's out of the vehicle," Stoughton said.
After a few objections by the defense, Judge Regina Chu warned the prosecution that Stoughton cannot testify as to what Potter knew at the moment of the shooting.
"He can't say she wouldn't have been aware that (Johnson) was in danger because he doesn't have any foundation for that," Chu said outside the presence of the jury. "What he can testify to is (what) a reasonable officer in Officer Potter's position would have done."
Stoughton, a published author on issues surrounding police use of force, also testified in April during the Derek Chauvin murder trial and said that a handcuffed, non-aggressive Floyd did not constitute a threat to Chauvin, and his level of force was disproportionate during the arrest. Chauvin was convicted and imprisoned.
Earlier in the sixth day of the manslaughter case against the 49-year-old Potter in Hennepin County District Court, a trainer for the Brooklyn Center Police Department said that he's heard of instances when someone meant to grab their Taser and drew their firearm instead.
Central to the first- and second-degree manslaughter case against Potter in the shooting of Wright is that despite her training she mistakenly grabbed her handgun from her right hip instead of her Taser from her left and shot the 20-year-old Wright on April 11 as he resisted arrest during a traffic stop. Potter yelled "Taser" multiple times at Wright before firing.
Sgt. Michael Peterson, who trains Brooklyn Center police officers about Taser use and other matters, agreed under defense questioning that a Taser can be employed for many of the circumstances that Potter faced when helping with the attempt to arrest Wright.
If someone is trying to get back in a car, "that person can be tased?" defense attorney Paul Engh said. Peterson said yes. The sergeant gave the same answer for when someone is being violent and resisting arrest.
Peterson on Wednesday, in answers to defense questions, also acknowledged that the Taser manufacturer warns its buyers that the device can be confused with a handgun.
"Otherwise, why warn you?" Engh said. "Mistakes can happen?" Peterson said yes.
"There have been confusions?" Engh said. Peterson said there have been "several" that he's been aware of occurring.
Frank countered by asking Peterson how many of those incidents, and the sergeant said he did not know and has never pulled his gun when meaning to grab his Taser. On Tuesday, Peterson said he could not remember any other officer firing a handgun when meaning to deploy a Taser, either on duty or during a role-playing scenario.
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