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Ex-cop Kimberly Potter testified in trial for Duante Wright's death

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A former police officer who fatally shot a young Black man last spring during a traffic stop in suburban Minneapolis testified in her own defense today. Kimberly Potter, who is white, is on trial for manslaughter in the death of Daunte Wright. Reporter Matt Sepic of Minnesota Public Radio joins me now from Minneapolis. And, Matt, just remind us what happened immediately before Potter killed Wright.

MATT SEPIC, BYLINE: Well, this was on April 11, and Kimberly Potter, a veteran officer in suburban Brooklyn Center, was on patrol with Anthony Luckey, a new officer she was training. Luckey has said that he spotted a car that looked suspicious, so he pulled it over. He soon found out that the driver, Daunte Wright, had a warrant for failing to appear in court on a weapons violation. When Luckey tried to arrest Wright, he slipped back into the driver's seat. On body camera video, Potter is heard threatening to use a Taser on Wright, but instead she shoots him once in the chest with her 9 mm glock.

KELLY: Well - and she testified today. Did she say why she grabbed her gun instead of her Taser?

SEPIC: She didn't address this specifically, Mary Louise. When Potter was testifying, her attorney went through the incident step by step. Here's what Potter did say. A third officer, Michael Johnson, was leaning through the front passenger door of Wright's car trying to grab the gear shift. Potter testified that Johnson had a look of fear on his face that she had never seen before.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KIMBERLY POTTER: We were trying to keep him from driving away. It just - it just went chaotic. And then I remember yelling, Taser, Taser, Taser and nothing happened. And then he told me I shot him (crying).

SEPIC: And, Mary Louise, Potter said she remembered very little about what happened next because she was in shock. But on her body camera video, she's heard saying that she grabbed the wrong gun. She uses expletives and expresses fear that she's going to prison. It's important to note here that whether Potter shot Wright is not in dispute. Prosecutors argue that Potter was reckless and negligent, the key elements of the two manslaughter charges she's facing. The defense admits the shooting was an accident but that Potter's use of force was still justified because she thought that another officer was in danger.

KELLY: And how did cross-examination play out? What did prosecutors ask Potter?

SEPIC: Prosecutor Erin Eldridge pointed out Potter's 26 years of law enforcement experience and extensive training with Tasers, which included warnings about not confusing the devices with a handgun. Eldridge also noted that Wright did not have a gun himself or threaten officers. And then she zeroed in on Potter's reaction immediately after she shot Wright.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ERIN ELDRIDGE: You didn't behave like someone who had just saved Sergeant Johnson's life. Did you?

POTTER: I was very distraught. I just shot somebody. I've never done that.

SEPIC: Potter again broke down in tears and said she was sorry that it happened.

KELLY: So the defense rests. What's next - closing arguments?

SEPIC: Right. The presiding judge set closing arguments for Monday morning. After that, the case goes to the jury.

KELLY: All right. Matt Sepic of Minnesota Public Radio, thank you.

SEPIC: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAG'S "LABRADOR (ENCORE)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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