On April 11, 2021, Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old biracial Black man, was fatally shot by police officer Kimberly Potter during a traffic stop and attempted arrest for an outstanding arrest warrant in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. After a brief struggle with officers, Wright was shot at close range. He then drove off a short distance, but his vehicle collided with another and hit a concrete barrier. Officers pulled Wright out of his car and administered CPR, but were unsuccessful, and he was pronounced dead at the scene.
The following day, police said that Potter meant to use her Taser but accidentally grabbed her gun instead, striking Wright with one shot to his chest. Two days later, Potter and Brooklyn Center police chief Tim Gannon resigned from their positions, and Potter fled her home after her address was leaked on social media. On April 14, Potter was arrested, charged with second-degree manslaughter, booked into the Hennepin County Jail, and released on $100,000 bail.
Daunte Demetrius Wright was a 20-year-old biracial Black man from Minneapolis. He was the son of an African-American father and a White mother. Wright's father said that his son had dropped out of high school about two years earlier due to a learning disability, and that he had been working in retail and fast food jobs to support his son. At the time of his death, Wright had a son who was almost two years old.
Wright was driving with his girlfriend in his white 2011 Buick LaCrosse. At 1:53p.m. local time on April 11, 2021, Brooklyn Center police pulled them over on 63rd Avenue North; officers said that they did so due to the car's expired registration tag/sticker on license plate. According to prosecutor Pete Orput, they later noticed the presence of an air freshener hanging from the car's rearview mirror, in violation of Minnesota law. Officers ran Wright's name through a police database and learned that he had an open arrest warrant "after failing to appear in court on charges that he fled from officers and possessed a gun without a permit during an encounter with Minneapolis police in June". Based on that information, police attempted to arrest him.
Police body camera footage showed two male officers and one female officer (Potter) approaching the car. One officer approached the driver's side door. The other officer approached the passenger's side door, while Potter, who was acting as a training officer, stood back initially.
The first officer informed Wright that there was a warrant for his arrest. He opened the driver's side door and Wright stepped out of the car. The car door remained open while Wright put his hands behind his back and the officer attempted to put on handcuffs. After several moments, Potter approached the pair. She held a vehicle's proof of insurance card with her right hand, then moved it to her left hand.
Wright, who was unarmed, began trying to avoid arrest, struggled with the officers, broke free, and stepped back into his car. Potter, who when the incident started had her Taser holstered on her left side and her gun on her right, said, "I'll tase you", and then yelled, "Taser! Taser! Taser!" Instead of a Taser, Potter then discharged her firearm a single time using her right hand, and subsequently said, "Oh shit, I just shot him."[a]
Potter's pistol, a Glock 9 mm model, was black, metal and almost a pound heavier than her plastic Taser, described as yellow or neon-colored, with a black grip. Potter was holding her gun for at least seven seconds before discharging it. Immediately after shooting Wright, she was still holding the proof-of-insurance card with her left hand.
After being shot at close range, Wright drove off. After driving about 470 feet (140 m), he collided with another vehicle near the intersection of 63rd Avenue North and Kathrene Drive. Officers administered CPR, but Wright was pronounced dead at the scene at 2:18 p.m. A female passenger in the vehicle, Wright's girlfriend, was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries, and no one in the other vehicle was injured.
On the morning of April 12, Brooklyn Center police chief Tim Gannon held a press conference and played a clip of the body camera footage. According to him, Potter intended to use a Taser on Wright but pulled out and discharged her gun instead. Potter was placed on administrative leave by the Brooklyn Center police pending further investigation.
On April 12, Brooklyn Center City Council passed a resolution banning choke holds and use of dangerous crowd control tactics such as tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and protester kettling. Police have still used said tactics, however.
On April 13, Potter and Gannon both submitted their resignations from the Brooklyn Center police department, with Potter's resignation stating it was in the "best interest of the community" and effective immediately. The Brooklyn Center City Council had recommended their firing during an emergency meeting on April 12.
State and county investigation
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) launched an investigation into the killing of Wright on April 12 per standard procedure, and identified Potter as the officer who shot Wright. In order to avoid conflicts of interest, the killing of Wright in Hennepin County was reviewed by the Washington County Attorney's Office per an agreement with metropolitan counties to handle officer-involved shootings. Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott called on GovernorTim Walz to reassign the case to the office of Attorney General Keith Ellison. On April 13, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said he was planning to complete a "thorough yet expedited" review of potential criminal charges in the case.
Washington County's attorney, Pete Orput, said Wright was pulled over by the officers because the vehicle had an expired registration tab. One officer later noticed an air freshener that hung from the rearview mirror, which was a violation of Minnesota law.
Arrest and charges
On April 14, Potter was charged by the Washington County Attorney's Office with second-degree manslaughter, pursuant to Minnesota Statutes Section 609.205, a felony offense entailing "culpable negligence creating unreasonable risk" that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years incarceration and/or a $20,000 fine. The criminal complaint against Potter states that she caused Wright's death "by her culpable negligence," whereby she "created an unreasonable risk and consciously took a chance of causing death or great bodily harm" to Wright.
After her indictment, Potter was arrested, booked into the Hennepin County Jail, and released a few hours later after posting a $100,000 bail bond. Potter briefly made her first court appearance via Zoom on April 15 before Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu. Potter is represented by Earl Gray, a Saint Paul-based attorney known for defending Thomas Lane and Jeronimo Yanez.
The office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison took over the prosecution on May 21, 2021. On May 24, 2021, Imran Ali, the assistant criminal division chief at the Washington County Attorney’s Office, resigned from his job in the Washington County prosecutor's office, subsequent to several activist groups demonstrating outside Orput's home demanding that the charges be raised to murder. Ali's resignation letter stated cited "vitriol" in public discourse about the case that made his job difficult. Together with Washington County District Attorney Pete Orput, Ali had been serving as the prosecution's Washington County co-counsel prior to state attorney general's office taking over the case.
Vigil for Wright on April 11, 2021, down the road from where he was killed
Following the April 11 shooting, mourners and protesters gathered near the scene to demand justice for Wright. Several protesters came from another rally organized by families of people who had been killed by police that occurred earlier in the day in nearby Saint Paul, Minnesota. Police with riot control equipment attempted to restrain the crowd of several hundred people outside of a police precinct. Some in the crowd became unruly, hurling projectiles such as rocks at officers. There was also looting, as more than 20 businesses were damaged in the action, and police vehicles were vandalized.
By April 12, local protests soon spilled over into other nearby locations in Minneapolis-Saint Paul metropolitan area then to other cities in the United States. Protesters demanded justice for Wright's death and made several demands of public officials, including a more severe murder charge for Potter, an independent investigation of the shooting, and enactment of police reform measures. Several nights of civil disorder in Brooklyn Center resulted in sporadic looting and clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement, and led to deployment of the Minnesota National Guard.
In media interviews, Wright's family thanked people for protesting and advocating for justice and encouraged people to protest peacefully.
Air fresheners, based on the reported conversation between Wright and his mother during the traffic stop, became a symbol at protests and rallies over Wright's death.
Protesters gather near the location in Brooklyn Center where Wright died, on the evening of April 11, 2021
Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott said in a tweet the evening of April 11, "The officer shooting in Brooklyn Center today is tragic. We are asking the protesters to continue to be peaceful and that peaceful protesters are not dealt with with force." Elliott said on April 12 that Potter should be fired.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz said in a tweet at 10:00 p.m. on April 11, "I am closely monitoring the situation in Brooklyn Center. Gwen and I are praying for Daunte Wright’s family as our state mourns another life of a Black man taken by law enforcement."
Minnesota Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan said, “As a child advocate, I am grappling with the stark reality: Minnesota is a place where it is not safe to be Black.”
Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota said on the morning of April 12, "A difficult night in Minnesota. We mourn with Daunte Wright's family as another Black man's life is lost at the hands of law enforcement."
Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon said at an April 12 press conference, "I have watched the video myself, and there is nothing I can say to lessen the pain of Mr. Wright's family, friends loved ones of that feeling of loss they must have. That pain is shared by the community and all those involved in the incident." On April 13, Gannon announced his resignation, alongside that of Potter.
City manager Curt Boganey, speaking at a April 12 BCPD press conference: "All employees working for the city of Brooklyn Center are entitled to due process with respect to discipline." The same day, the Brooklyn Center City Council fired Boganey and gave Mayor Elliott command authority over the city police force
President Joe Biden said about the incident and unrest, "Peaceful protest is understandable. And the fact is that we do know that the anger, pain and trauma that exists in Black community in that environment is real – it's serious, and it's consequential. But that does not justify violence. We should listen to Daunte's mom who is calling for peace and calm." Vice President Kamala Harris said "Daunte's family ... needs answers" on Twitter.
Public figures and institutions
Protest at Brooklyn Center police station, April 12, 2021
The NAACP released a statement saying "Whether it be carelessness and negligence, or a blatant modern-day lynching, the result is the same. Another Black man has died at the hands of police."
Referring to controversy surrounding traffic stops due to small objects dangling from rear-view mirrors, the American Civil Liberties Union said it had "deep concerns that police here appear to have used dangling air fresheners as an excuse for making a pretextual stop, something police do all too often to target Black people."
Former President Barack Obama said of the incident, "Our hearts are heavy over yet another shooting of a Black man, Daunte Wright, at the hands of police. It’s important to conduct a full and transparent investigation, but this is also a reminder of just how badly we need to reimagine policing and public safety in this country."
Al Sharpton said: "You can die for having expired tags or for a phony 20 dollar bill or you may have not even known was a phony 20 dollar bill. It wouldn't happen in any other community."
Although earlier in the day the Minnesota Twins had issued a statement postponing their Target Field home game, after the announcement of the curfew, the Wild postponed their home game in Saint Paul's Xcel Energy Center and the Timberwolves postponed their game in the Minneapolis Target Center. The Minnesota Vikings released a statement which said in part: "This avoidable situation is yet another tragic reminder of the drastic need for change in law enforcement." At their game back on April 13, the Timberwolves and the visiting Brooklyn Nets observed a moment of silence for Daunte Wright before the game while most players wore shirts that read "With Liberty and Justice FOR ALL".
Chuck Valleau, head of the Brooklyn Center police union, said, "The death of Daunte Wright is terrible. And the loss of our co-worker Kim Potter is also terrible for what she’s going through as well."
Soon after the incident, Wright's mother spoke with reporters and said her son had phoned her during the traffic stop. She said she had overheard what sounded like a scuffle and an officer saying, "Daunte, don't run" before the phone hung up and that her son said he had been pulled over for having an air freshener hanging from his rear-view mirror.
Wright's mother talked about seeing her son's body over FaceTime at a press conference on April 13. The girlfriend of George Floyd, was also one of Wright's former teachers, and attended the press conference for support. Floyd had been murdered during an arrest by Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis police department on May 25, 2020. Relatives of at least six Black men killed by the police and a family member of Emmett Till, who had been lynched in Money, Mississippi, in 1955, were also present.
Earlier that day, both parents appeared on Good Morning America, his father saying: "I lost my son, he's never coming back ... I can't accept that—a mistake, that doesn't even sound right," he added. "This officer has been on the force for 26 years. I can't accept that."
The mother of Wright's son said: "His dad won't get to see him for his second birthday or for any of his birthdays. And I'm just so messed up about it because I feel like they stole my son's dad from him."
Memorials and funeral
In Brooklyn Center on April 14, 2021, protesters put up a large, wooden sculpture of a raised fist at the 63rd Avenue North and Kathrene Drive intersection where car driven by Wright collided with another vehicle. The sculptured had been displayed previously at George Floyd Square in Minneapolis, but it had been replaced there by a version made of metal. People also placed memorials for Wright at the location where he was shot and the location where Wright was pronounced dead.
Wright's killing was the sixth by Brooklyn Center police officers since 2012, and all but one were of persons of color. At least 207 people have been killed by law enforcement in Minnesota since 2000, according to a local newspaper database. Wright's death became the third high-profile death of a Black man in the Minneapolis area over the past five years during a police encounter. In 2016, Philando Castile was shot to death by a police officer during a traffic stop in the nearby city of Falcon Heights, and Floyd was killed in 2020. The fatal shooting of Justine Damond, a White woman, by a Black Minneapolis police officer in 2017 also resulted in controversy, and a conviction of third-degree murder and manslaughter for the officer that shot her. The fatal shooting of Jamar Clark by a Minneapolis police officer during an arrest in 2015, and the exchange of gunfire with Minneapolis police that left Dolal Idd dead during an attempted sting operation in December 2020, were also sources of controversy and protests over the killing of Black men.
In 2018, a traffic stop arrestee was wounded by a female officer coming to assist a policeman who was being assaulted in Lawrence, Kansas. After discharging her gun, startled, she yelled, "Oh, shit, I shot him." Though she was charged, a judge dismissed the charges against the policewoman. Similar confusion during a scuffle was repeated in a 2019 shooting by a backup officer in a New Hope, Pennsylvania, jail cell. The Bucks County, Pennsylvania District Attorney declined to press charges against the officer, saying state law excused the officer's conduct from criminal prosecution because of his "honest but mistaken" belief he was firing his Taser when he shot the wounded prisoner. In both cases, the officers shouted "Taser," before firing.
Including Potter's killing of Wright, there had been 16 known cases when a police officer in the United States fired a pistol at someone when they claimed they intended to use a Taser instead.
Changes to policies
The police departments of Roeland Park, Kansas, and St. Ann, Missouri, made changes to their Taser policies, with Roeland Park police saying they would cross draw Tasers with "no exceptions", and St. Ann police saying they would only use yellow Tasers and require officers to carry them opposite their main weapon.
The Washington State Legislature passed House Bill 1267, which will create a statewide office to investigate use-of-force incidents by July 2022, and Senate Bill 5259, which will create a statewide database of use-of-force incidents.
Local officials in Minnesota called for measures to better distinguish Tasers and firearms, as part of comprehensive police reform.
In Brooklyn Center, the city council passed an ordinance named after Daunte Wright and Kobe Dimock-Heisler, another Black man who had been killed in an encounter with city police prior to Wright. The ordinance created unarmed traffic enforcement and community response teams, and it prohibited arrests or vehicle searches in certain traffic-related encounters. Wright's family believed that had the policy been in place when he was stopped by police, he would not have been killed.
Civil cases against the Wright estate
The family of a 16-year old filed a civil suit against the estate of Daunte Wright in May 2021 claiming that Wright had shot their child in the head on May 14, 2019, which rendered him permanently disabled. No one had been charged in the shooting, but the case investigation remained open in mid 2021. A second civil suit was filed against the estate by a man alleging that Wright had assaulted him during a carjacking the evening of March 21, 2021.