Kim Potter, who killed Daunte Wright, testifies at her trial. Former suburban Minneapolis police officer Kim Potter took the stand Friday at her manslaughter trial in the shooting death of Black motorist Daunte Wright.
Potter has said she meant to draw her Taser instead of her gun when she shot the 20-year-old Wright as he was trying to drive away from officers seeking to arrest him on a weapons possession warrant. Video of the shooting was recorded by officers’ body cameras.
The defense began its case Thursday after prosecutors spent a week calling police witnesses to build their case that Potter, who resigned from the Brooklyn Center police force after the shooting, was an experienced officer who was thoroughly trained to use a Taser and knew the dangers of confusing one with a handgun.
In addition to arguing that Wright’s death was a tragic mistake, Potter’s attorneys have said that she would have been justified in using deadly force to stop Wright from driving away and possibly dragging one of Potter’s fellow officers.
Before Potter took the stand, a psychologist called by Potter’s lawyers testified that police officers can mistakenly draw their guns instead of their Tasers under high-stress situations because their ingrained training takes over.
Laurence Miller, who teaches at Florida Atlantic University, said Friday that the more someone repeats the same act, the less he or she has to think about it and circumstances during a stressful situation can cause someone’s normal reactions to be “hijacked.”
Prosecutors argue that Potter was an experienced officer who had been thoroughly trained in the use of a Taser, including warnings about the danger of confusing one with a handgun. They have to prove recklessness or culpable negligence to win a conviction on the manslaughter charges.
Potter is white, and Wright’s death set off several nights of angry protests in Brooklyn Center. It happened while a white former officer, Derek Chauvin, was on trial in nearby Minneapolis for the killing of George Floyd.
Miller said that when a person learns a new skill, memory of an old skill might override that, resulting in an “action error” in which an intended action has an unintended effect.
”You intend to do one thing, think you’re doing that thing, but do something else and only realize later that the action that you intended was not the one you took,” he said.
Miller said it happens all the time and is often trivial, like writing the wrong year on a check early in January. There are also more serious examples of action error, such as when a doctor might use an old approach to treat someone even after being trained in a newer one, he said.
The person committing the error “thinks they are performing one action when they are performing something else,” Miller said. When the intended result does not occur, the person realizes it, he said.
“If it’s a high-stress circumstance, extremely high arousal” the person is more susceptible to making a mistake that can put life in danger, said Miller, who said the most typical example of “weapon confusion” is when an officer confuses a gun for a Taser.
He said it is called “slip and capture,” meaning that under a state of high arousal and hyper focus, the ability to choose the correct response slips away and is “captured” by the more baked-in knowledge that a person has had for a longer time.
Some experts are skeptical of the theory. Geoffrey Alpert, a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina who is not involved in Potter’s trial, has said there’s no science behind it.
On cross-examination, prosecutor Erin Eldridge read to Miller from a 2010 article Alpert wrote in which he described how police can avoid what he termed “one big mistake.” He wrote that many such mistakes are preventable through proper training and practice.
Eldridge said the term slip and capture has been termed “junk science” and has no foundation in the general field of psychology. Miller said the term is not common, but the theory behind it is.
The defense began its case on Thursday. Among those testifying was Potter’s chief at the time, Tim Gannon. Gannon called Potter “a fine officer” and said he “saw no violation” of policy by her in the traffic stop.
Gannon resigned two days after the shooting, saying he was essentially forced out because he wouldn’t immediately fire Potter. Potter resigned the same day.
Gannon testified that it appeared to him from dashcam video that Sgt. Mychal Johnson, who was assisting in the stop, was “leaning into” Wright’s car. He said it was his opinion that deadly force was reasonable.
Use-of-force expert Stephen Ijames, a former assistant police chief in Springfield, Mo., testified Thursday that officers were legally bound to arrest Wright after discovering he had a warrant for an outstanding weapons violation.
Ijames, who said he wrote the Taser policy for the International Assn. of Chiefs of Police, also said it was very unlikely that Wright could have driven away had Potter actually used her Taser. That contradicted a prosecution use-of-force expert who testified earlier that using either a gun or a Taser on Wright would have made things worse because he could have been incapacitated and his vehicle could have become a weapon.
After Potter shot Wright, his car took off and crashed seconds later into an oncoming vehicle, hurting his passenger and someone in the other car.
U.S. health officials are endorsing “test-to-stay” policies that allow close contacts of students infected with the coronavirus to remain in classrooms if they test negative.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided to more firmly embrace the approach, already used in many school districts, after research of such policies in the Chicago and Los Angeles areas found COVID-19 infections did not increase when using the approach.
“Test-to-stay is an encouraging public health practice to help keep our children in school,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Friday.
CDC’s official guidance for schools has been that when someone in a school tests positive for COVID-19 infection, those who were deemed to be in close contact should stay out of school, in home quarantine, for 10 days.