Experts: Potter missed the opportunity to explain the confusion between tasers

MINNEAPOLIS – The former Minnesota police officer who shot Daunte Wright alternated between tears, statements of remorse and stark, pragmatic responses as she testified at her manslaughter trial in the death of the black motorist.

But Kim Potter’s testimony on Friday was notably limited on a key part of her defense – that she made a mistake by drawing her handgun instead of her Taser and killed Wright during a traffic stop last April in Brooklyn Center.

A legal expert who spoke to The Associated Press said the defense may have been intentionally vague on this point, but others said it seemed like a missed opportunity for Potter to tell jurors how confusion had arisen. might have happened and what she was thinking – something the jurors were probably waiting to hear.

“I didn’t think they’d pulled Potter enough because we hadn’t thought of her,” said Marsh Halberg, an unrelated Minneapolis defense attorney.

When questioned by her lawyer Earl Gray, Potter testified that while officers wrestled with Wright, she saw her supervisor, Sgt. Mychal Johnson, leaning in the car with “a look of fear on his face”. As she cried at the stand she went on to say, “I remember yelling, ‘Taser, Taser, Taser’ and nothing happened, then he told me I shot him. ” The body camera video recorded Wright saying, “Ah, he shot me” before the car took off.

“He made her admit that she saw the fear on Johnson’s face, but did not explore that further,” said John Baker, a former defense attorney who now teaches would-be police officers at the St Cloud State University. “He should have gone a lot further and asked her to testify more about it,” Baker said.

He added that Gray hadn’t asked Potter to explain the error, saying, “They haven’t even addressed her.”

Mike Brandt, another Minneapolis attorney following the case, said breaking down the moments surrounding the shooting may have been effective, but the defense “made a tactical decision that it wasn’t going to be necessary and maybe left more vague if you will. “

Brandt said the purpose of putting Potter, who is white, at the helm was to humanize him for the jury, which he believes has been done successfully. Brandt said Gray did a good job using Potter’s words to paint a picture of a woman who was inspired to become an officer at a young age, who had nothing to complain about and who did not. not tried to climb the ranks because she liked to work in the streets.

While the experts believed Potter’s tears were genuine, they had mixed opinions on how his emotions might have played out for the jury.

“It was almost heartbreaking to watch, especially at cross country. His facial expressions seemed to seem to actively relive the trauma of the experience,” said Rachel Moran, professor at the University of St. Thomas.

Moran said it was hard not to believe that Potter is horrified and sorry for what she did. But while some people might sympathize with Potter, others might dispute that she needed reassurance after the shoot when the focus should have been on Wright, Moran said.

Moran said that the fact that his lawyers didn’t get into Potter’s state of mind was “strange”, saying that she thought one of the first questions that should have been asked was whether Potter had intending to shoot Wright.

Experts said Erin Eldridge, the prosecutor who questioned Potter, was generally good at cross-examination.

Brandt said Potter looked too defensive and slightly combative when she gave Eldridge short answers, but said that Eldridge started to look like a “bully” when Potter started to cry. Moran said Eldridge was not particularly aggressive, but continued to “bulldoze” throughout his cross-examination, even though Potter had what Moran called a “visible breakdown”. She said it’s hard to say how this will play out with the jury.

Moran also said that Potter’s immediate reaction to the shooting, seen in police footage, shows that she knew she had done something horribly wrong and had no intention of doing anything. ‘use his weapon. She said Eldridge was strong in establishing this during her cross-examination.

Notably, Eldridge at one point agreed to Potter that she had no intention of using deadly force – Potter’s attorneys argued that even if it was not a mistake, Potter would have was justified in using lethal force because she feared Johnson’s life. was in danger.

Baker said another highlight was when Eldridge walked Potter through the body camera video and showed Potter what she was doing.

“It was really overwhelming when she got the video of the freeze frame of her with her hand on what appeared to be her gun as she was still there and about to enter,” Baker said. . “I think she did a great job removing her.”

Baker said if jurors had started deliberating soon after Potter testified, his emotional display might have had more effect. He said having the weekend between testifying and pleading gives jurors some distance.

Legal experts said Potter’s testimony was not as strong as they thought.

Baker said the defense spent too much time justifying stopping traffic and didn’t put enough emphasis on when it pulled out its gun instead of its Taser. Baker said Potter had not provided any explanation for what she had done at the time, which he called “problematic for the defense.”

Halberg added on Friday: “I thought today was going to be the final blow. But it was not. ”


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