On April 11, 2021, Daunte Demetrius Wright, a 20-year-old African-American man, was fatally shot by police officer Kimberly Ann 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.
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. They later noticed the presence of an air freshener hanging from the car's rearview mirror, according to prosecutor Pete Orput. 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 grabbed a small object that appeared to be a proof of insurance card with her right hand, then put it in 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 being 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 "standard 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 effective immediately. The Brooklyn Center City Council had recommended their firing during an emergency meeting on April 12. In her resignation letter, Potter wrote to city officials: "I have loved every minute of being a police officer and serving this community to the best of my ability, but I believe it is in the best interest of the community, the department, and my fellow officers if I resign immediately."
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 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 culplable 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.
Vigil for Wright on April 11, 2021, down the road from where he was killed
Following the 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.
Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott issued a citywide curfew until 6:00 a.m. the following morning and local schools were closed out of "an abundance of caution", according to Brooklyn Center Community Schools Superintendent Dr. Carly Baker, with students instead attending virtually. The National Guard was activated to assist with dispelling the violence.
His mother, Katie Wright, pleaded for peace saying, "All the violence, if it keeps going it's only going to be about the violence. We need it to be about why my son got shot for no reason...We need to make sure it's about him and not about smashing police cars, because that's not going to bring my son back."
On April 12, in reaction to the unrest, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz enacted a 7:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. curfew throughout much of the Minneapolis-Saint Paul region: in Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka, and Dakota counties. Protesters and police clashed for the second night as police fired gas canisters and flash-bang grenades at protesters after the start of curfew. Some protesters, wearing gas masks, picked up smoke canisters and threw them back at police. About 40 arrests were made ranging from curfew violation to rioting.
In an April 13 interview with ABC News anchor Robin Roberts, both of Wright's parents, Katie and Aubrey Wright, thanked people for protesting and advocated again for people to continue doing so peacefully.
Air fresheners, based on the 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 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 the Saint Paul 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."
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 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.George Floyd's girlfriend, who was also one of Wright's former teachers, attended the press conference for support. Relatives of at least six Black men killed by the police and a family member of Emmett Till 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."
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 the year prior 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.
Taser and handgun confusion
Wright's death was one of several instances where a police officer said they accidentally fired a handgun when they meant to draw and discharge a Taser instead, such as a 2002 shooting in nearby Rochester, Minnesota, the 2009 shooting of Oscar Grant in California, the 2015 shooting of Eric Harris in Oklahoma, a 2018 shooting in Kansas, and a 2019 shooting in Pennsylvania. Including Potter, there had been 16 known cases when a police officer in the United States used a gun on someone when they had 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.