Prosecutors have suffered a double blow at the start of day five of the Kim Potter trial as they failed in their bid to bring two motions undermining the credibility and limiting the scope of testimony of law enforcement officers.
Yesterday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison made a bid to question the credibility of police officers’ testimony by bringing Potter’s role as Police Union President to light.
In a court filing he claimed that the jury could not do their job without an awareness of what he characterized as a source of bias.
Today, in a brief hearing Tuesday morning, Judge Regina Chu dismissed the argument made by Assistant AG Matthew Frank ahead of Day Five of testimony in Daunte Wright’s shooting.
Frank attempted to claim that the testimony of former Brooklyn Center Police Sergeant Mychal Johnson could have been bias even though he was not a union member.
Johnson was called as a state witness Friday but told the court that Potter was not only within her rights to use her taser but that, under the circumstances she would have been justified in using lethal force.
According to Judge Chu, ‘Here’s the problem I see, Former Officer Potter is no longer connected to the police union in any way so witnesses who are testifying couldn’t possibly be bias to testify in her favor because of her position.’
She concluded, ‘I’m going to find that the question about union membership and officer Potter’s former activities are not relevant to show bias. I am denying the motion.’
Kim Potter, 49, is charged with first-degree manslaughter and second-degree manslaughter after fatally shooting Wright on April 11. She’s pictured in court on Tuesday
Tuesday morning, Judge Regina Chu dismissed the argument made by Assistant Matthew Frank ahead of day five of testimony in Daunte Wright’s shooting
Officer Kim Potter, a 26-year veteran in the force, claims she accidentally shot Daunte Wright (right) when she reached for her gun instead of her taser during a traffic stop over his expired plates in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota
Judge Chu went onto deny a second prosecution bid to limit testimony of law enforcement witnesses. In a notice also filed yesterday the state sought to prohibit attorneys eliciting what they referred to as ‘expert opinions’ from lay witnesses.
As with the previous motion this seemed a direct response to Johnson’s testimony.
And, as with the previous motion, Judge Chu was unconvinced telling prosecutor Erin Eldridge, ‘I am not going to tell the jury to disregard [Sgt Johnson’s testimony].
Brooklyn Center Patrol Major Mychal Johnson, who assisted officers at the scene on April 11, took the stand on Friday
‘When that issue came up, I ruled that police officers can testify about what they have been trained to do under certain circumstances
‘I think the state’s motion goes beyond Officer Johnson. They’re also trying to preclude any of the police officers who will be testifying from eliciting opinions considering whether the use of the taser was appropriate.
‘I believe that police officers are entitled to render an opinion on that and it’s totally appropriate for them to do that… so I am denying the motion.’
During the morning break Potter officially waived her right to a jury trial on the aggravating factors brought by the state in their bid to secure a longer sentence than the terms suggested by Minnesota state should she be found guilty.
First degree manslaughter carries a sentence of up to 15 years but sentencing guidelines mean that, should she be found guilty, Potter would more likely fact a term of seven years.
The prosecution has already filed a motion pushing for harsher sentences in the event of a guilty verdict.
In a tetchy exchange with the judge prosecutor Matthew Frank insisted that all parties had already agreed that evidence relating to the so-called Blakely factors they have raised would be heard as part of the main trial.
The state has cited two aggravating factors: the risk posed to the safety of others by Potter’s actions and her abuse of authority as a licensed police officer.
But today Potter’s attorney Earl Gray rejected this saying no such agreement had been made and Judge Chu once again sided with the defense.
While she said she would not go back and exclude any evidence already given, she made it clear to the state that no evidence speaking solely to the aggravating factors, rather than the central facts of the case, would be admissible moving forward.
On Monday the Minnesota AG made a bid to question the credibility of police officers’ testimony by bringing Potter’s role as Police Union President to light
Attorneys for Potter have once again converted a state witness into one for the defense and elicited the opinion under oath that the ex-cop would have been justified in using deadly force when she mistook her handgun for her taser and shot Daunte Wright on April 11.
Jurors spent the morning hearing from Brooklyn Center PD Commander Garett Flesland, a sometime supervisor of Potter.
Through Flesland, the prosecution had introduced sections of Brooklyn Center PD policy on use of force as well as their code of ethics and the oath sworn by every officer,
Under examination by Assistant AG Frank, Flesland explained that officers were notified of updates in the department policies and had to acknowledge that they had read and understood them.
When it comes to use of force, the department policy states, ‘Officers are entrusted to use well-reasoned discretion in interpreting the use of force in each incident.’
Frank took Flesland through the factors used to determine ‘reasonableness’ and circumstances under which deadly force would be justified.
The jury heard these included, ‘to protect the officer or another from death or great bodily harm,’ and ‘to effect arrest or capture or prevent escape.’
The court also heard that, as a Field Training Officer, Potter was subject to additional training and certification.
Jurors were shown Potter’s Taser certification and recertification forms and learned that she received a ‘perfect score’ on the written test more than once.
As Frank moved through her qualifications, the court also learned that Potter was only certified on the Taser 7 in March, 2021 having completed a transition course from the previous models used by the department.
Frank showed still images from prior incidents from 2016 to 2020 as well as the day of Wright’s shooting to establish that Potter wore her taser on her left, or reaction, side and that her Taser was always placed in the holster with the handle to the back.
Flesland told the court that this meant that she would have consistently drawn it with her left hand and not reach across her body to draw it with her right.
But under cross examination Earl Gray established that Potter had only fallen foul of BCPD policies twice in her life – 24 or 26 years ago when she had two car accidents at the start of her career.
And ,just as he had with Patrol Major Mychal Johnson, Gray turned a state witness into a powerful voice for the defense.
Gray put it to Flesland, ‘If someone hypothetically is inside a vehicle that’s trying to take off and part of his body’s hanging out and part of it is in the car that person would be dragged down the road. Correct?’
Flesland agreed, ‘Very likely. I would be concerned yes.’
His voice rising in a crescendo Gray laid out the scenario in which, he claims, Potter found herself – with Wright repeatedly resisting, fighting attempts to apprehend him, ignoring her warnings, ‘I’m going to tase you…Taser! Taser!’ and trying to take off while a fellow officer was half in, half out of the car.
In those circumstances he asked, ‘You have the right to use deadly force to save that police officer…Correct?’
Flesland replied, ‘Potentially, yes.’
The officer went onto admit that he would be ‘extremely concerned’ if he were arresting a person whom he knew to have a warrant for a weapons violation.
Asked how he would describe Potter, having worked with her for 20 years, Flesland said, ‘She’s a good cop. She’s a good person. She’s a friend. I had no concerns going to calls with her.’
As Gray wrapped up Flesland gave an answer that was struck from the record on the state’s objection, when he revealed that he and former Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon had gone to Potter’s home on the day of the incident because he admitted, ‘We had been told she’d hurt herself.’
An emotional Potter was seen screaming and burying her face in her hands moments after the shooting
Earlier in the trial, jurors were shown bodycam and dash cam footage of the dramatic moment Potter shot Wright dead after ‘accidentally’ pulling out her gun instead of her taser
Judge Chu interrupted the afternoon’s testimony as the jury appeared to drift and even nod off with one juror closing his eyes.
Catching the jury’s fading attention Judge Chu suggested that they, ‘stand up and stretch their legs,’ observing ‘it’s getting late in the afternoon.’
BCPD Sgt Mike Peterson, who has been a Use of Force instructor with the department since 2007, was on the stand.
He outlined officers’ taser training and told how mistaking a firearm for a taser was a danger covered in both the manufacturer warnings and Brooklyn Center training and policy.
The court heard that BCPD policy allows a taser to be used on, ‘a subject who is violent or physically resisting’ or ‘demonstrating by words or action an intention to be violent or physically resisting and reasonably appears to present the potential to harm officers him/herself or others.’
But the policy states, ‘Mere flight without other known circumstances is not good cause.’
With the jurors’ energy clearly flagging Judge Chu halted the day with the end of Peterson’s lengthy direct examination.
Frank closed by asking the officer if he had ever known of any other cop to draw their gun when they intended to draw their taser. He said he did not.
Court will resume with Peterson’s cross examination Wednesday.
As the footage played on Potter could be seen standing at a wire fencing by the roadside repeating over and over, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’
Johnson is heard in the footage trying to comfort Potter, telling her to breathe and sit down as she cries saying she is going to prison
On Friday it was revealed that fellow officers feared that Potter would take her own life in the wake of the shooting and took steps to ensure that she did not have a loaded firearm in her possession.
It came in testimony from Mychal Johnson, the officer who claims his life was saved by Potter’s actions as, he believed, Wright was trying to drive off with him ‘dangling’ out of the car.
Johnson told jurors that he had taken Potter’s gun from her after the shooting as it might be used in evidence in a future court hearing, but he handed her his own.
Moments later, he told the court, a fellow officer expressed concern that Potter might harm herself.
‘Officer Potter was sitting in a squad, and I discreetly asked if I could see my firearm and was able to remove the magazine and one round in the chamber so at that time there were no rounds in the chamber,’ he said.
Despite Johnson’s claim being key to Potter’s defense he had been called as a witness for the prosecution.
Earlier Minnesota’s Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank took Johnson through the traffic stop and shooting as methodically as possible, apparently at pains not to elicit any opinion from the officer who knew Potter both professionally and socially.
Johnson, now a patrol major with Goodhue County Sheriff’s Department was a sergeant with Brooklyn Center Police Department and Potter’s supervisor at the time.
He was on the scene because he had responded to rookie Officer Anthony Luckey’s request for back-up at the fateful traffic stop that day.
But while Frank kept emotion out of Johnson’s testimony there was no way to remove it from previously unseen footage from Johnson’s bodycam that was played in court.
On Friday, jurors saw the third officer’s perspective for the first time as he reached into Wright’s car and tried to prevent the 20-year-old from driving away.
They saw him reach for the gear shift and attempt to turn Wright’s keys in the ignition.
Then they saw Johnson grab Wright’s arm as he struggled and appeared to try to get to the gear shift.
Johnson told the court that he ‘heard a loud pop’ but didn’t immediately register that a shot had been fired.
As the footage played on the jury once again saw a hysterical Potter yelling, ‘I grabbed the wrong f***ing gun. I shot him. Oh my God.’
Now they heard Johnson comfort her, telling her to breathe and sit down. ‘I’m going to prison,’ she said.
Johnson could be heard replying, ‘No you’re not. Kim, that guy was trying to take off with me in the car.’
The court was shown photos of Wright’s bloodied body and autopsy photos. An illustration of the path of the projectile recovered from Wright’s body is shown
Dr. Jackson told jurors that Wright would have died within ‘seconds to minutes’ of receiving a gunshot to his chest
On Monday jurors were shown shown gruesome images from Wright’s autopsy and pictures of his body at the scene of his death.
Hennepin County Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Lorren Jackson was the first witness called by the prosecution Monday morning.
Jackson responded to the scene of the crash that followed Wright’s shooting April 11, 2021. He told jurors that Wright would have died within ‘seconds to minutes’ of receiving a gunshot to his chest.
As the court was shown photographs of Wright’s bloodied body Dr. Jackson told how he had examined Wright’s body at the scene then carefully bagged his hands to preserve any trace evidence and placed in him a sealed body bag.
The photographs were not broadcast as part of the livestream of the trial according to an order from Judge Regina Chu, but Jackson described what they showed.
In this screen grab from video, a photo of a Glock 9mm handgun carried by Potter is entered into evidence
Chu also limited the number and nature of images that the state could show, stating that she wanted the jury to decide this case based on evidence and facts, not sympathy.
The judge ordered that Wright’s face, in which his eyes were open, be excluded from many of the autopsy pictures.
But pictures of his face – with abrasions and small lacerations on his lip – were among close to 30 images displayed in court today. The injuries were, Jackson said, superficial and consistent with Wright’s car crash and efforts to resuscitate him.
The jury saw the bloody gunshot wound’s entry point and partial exit wound as well as the adhesive seals placed over it by officers attempting to stem the bleeding.
An X-Ray showed the bullet still lodged in his body despite having broken the skin at its resting point.
Under direct examination by prosecutor Erin Eldridge, Jackson explained that he had recovered the bullet from beneath the skin between the fourth and fifth rib.
Pictures of Wright’s chest, the skin reflected back, showed the path the bullet took through his bone and muscle and the holes, torn in the left and right ventricles of his heart.
A graphic showed more clearly the path the hollow-point bullet had torn through Wright’s chest wall, heart and lungs as it ‘mushroomed’ on impact. According to Jackson ‘the majority of the injury was to Wright’s heart.’
He found approximately 3 liters of blood in Wright’s chest – more than half the amount of blood Wright would have had in his entire body.
‘A person of Wright’s size and build would have approximately 4.5-5.5 liters of blood within his entire body. When you lose more than half of that rapidly it’s a life-threatening injury,’ Jackson explained
He estimated that Wright could have lost consciousness within 10-15 seconds if he lost blood supply to his brain and that he would have died in a matter of minutes.
In this screen grab from video, the bullet recovered from Wright’s body is shown as Dr. Lorren Jackson takes the stand
Johnson testified that he opened the passenger-side door after Wright started to pull away from another officer, leaned into the car, pushed the shift knob forward to make sure it was in park and reached for the keys to try to turn off the vehicle
Toxicology tests showed cannabinoids – THC and metabolites of marijuana – in Wright’s body.
As the morning continued Bureau of Criminal Apprehension forensic scientist Melissa Loren, the crime scene leader, took the stand.
Several images of the crash-damaged car were displayed in court as she testified. By far the most disturbing were those showing the driver’s seat.
The paperwork through which Wright had leafed trying to find insurance documents was bloodstained and scattered on the seat in which blood pooled. A spent cartridge casing was clearly visible on it.
Potter’s gun, made safe for the court, was also displayed during Loren’s testimony.
Flanked by her attorneys, the ex-cop shifted uncomfortably in her seat and looked down as the gun was brought into the room.