Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced Friday that his office will prosecute the former police officer who killed Daunte Wright during a traffic stop, a case that set off fresh calls for justice in police shootings just as the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin neared its conclusion.

The move comes just more than a month since Wright's death and follows widespread calls from protesters, the ACLU, attorney Ben Crump and others for Ellison, not Washington County Attorney Pete Orput, to prosecute the case.

"I did not seek this prosecution and do not accept it lightly," Ellison said in a statement. "I have had, and continue to have, confidence in how both County Attorney Orput and [Hennepin] County Attorney [Mike] Freeman have handled this case to date."

Kimberly A. Potter, a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center police department, fatally shot Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during an April 11 traffic stop. Police said Potter, who is white, had mistaken her gun for her Taser.

She has been charged with second-degree manslaughter and is scheduled to stand trial Dec. 6. Her attorney, Earl Gray, could not be reached for comment.

Ellison's announcement was welcomed by civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong, one of the leaders of protests at Orput's home in Stillwater.

"Once again, this demonstrates the power of the people and our willingness to show up to apply pressure and to be unrelenting in the pursuit of justice," she said. "This wouldn't have happened without people showing up in Stillwater to demand justice for Daunte Wright."

Orput was originally assigned the Hennepin County case under a system enacted last year by metro-area county attorneys that sought to eliminate the appearance of bias in prosecution of police shootings. It was Orput's decision to return the case, according to the attorney general's office.

Protesters had made issue of Orput's past as a volunteer attorney for the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, a tie that Orput and the association say no longer exists. After Orput charged Potter with second-degree manslaughter, protests increased at his home, urging him to upgrade the charges while simultaneously calling for Ellison to take over the prosecution.

After Orput returned the case to Freeman, the Hennepin County attorney asked Ellison's office to take over, a move allowed under state statutes that authorize the attorney general's office to review and prosecute a criminal case upon request from a county attorney.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank, the manager of the criminal division who was a presenting attorney in the Chauvin trial, will supervise.

Probing — and prosecuting — deadly police encounters has come to define Ellison's first term as Minnesota's attorney general. Well before George Floyd's death last year, Ellison teamed with state Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington in convening a yearlong study into how to mitigate and respond to such cases.

Ellison's office also took over the prosecution of the former officers involved in Floyd's death at a time in which community members, lawmakers and county prosecutors alike considered whether the attorney general should become the permanent point person for charging decisions in all cases of citizens killed by police.

Last summer, the Minnesota County Attorneys Association recommended that lawmakers require the attorney general's office have that power — though as activists began urging Ellison to lead Potter's prosecution in April, he and Gov. Tim Walz both insisted it was already in good hands with Orput.

But early in the Potter case, there also was a question of resources: Ellison's office has just one full-time attorney in its criminal division and leaned heavily on the work of four pro bono attorneys and staff from the Hennepin County Attorney's Office to prosecute Chauvin. The attorney general was expected to rely on the same pro bono team for its case against the other three ex-Minneapolis officers involved in Floyd's death. That case is scheduled for trial in March 2022.

In its budget request to the Legislature this year, Ellison's office has asked for 11 additional full-time criminal attorneys to return the office to its levels of the 1980s and 1990s.

In a statement Friday, Walz said he and First Lady Gwen Walz hosted Wright's family at the governor's residence this week.

"We heard their desire to have the strongest legal team possible to bring their family justice," the governor said. "No verdict will bring Daunte back to his family, but I have full faith that Attorney General Ellison will build the best team possible to pursue accountability for what happened that tragic day."

Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott, who has set major police reform efforts in motion since Wright's death, welcomed the news and said in a statement that the city "will work collaboratively" with Ellison's office.

"I believe this is a milestone moment in our pursuit of justice," Elliott said.

Matt McKinney • 612-673-7329

Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755