The Brooklyn Center Police Department requires officers to test their Tasers at the start of every shift, but former officer Kimberly Potter failed to do so several times before she fatally shot Daunte Wright with her handgun while apparently thinking she was deploying her Taser.
Prosecutors delved into the differences between Potter's Taser and handgun, attempting to show that she acted recklessly when she shot Wright during a traffic stop, as testimony resumed Monday in her manslaughter trial. Potter's defense continued its focus on Wright's marijuana use and tried to close the gap between the weapons as they argued that she meant to use her Taser on Wright.
Testimony also revealed that Wright, 20, could have lost consciousness between 10 to 15 seconds after the bullet tore through his heart and probably died within seconds to minutes.
Prosecutors walked Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) agent Sam McGinnis through part of Brooklyn Center police's Taser policy, Potter's work schedule and several differences between her Taser and handgun.
McGinnis testified that Potter received her Taser on March 26 and performed a "function" or "spark" test on the Taser on six of the 10 shifts she worked between then and the day she killed Wright — April 11. Potter last performed the test on April 9; she worked the 10th and 11th, McGinnis said. The test is required at the start of each shift to ensure the weapon works.
"Was this information that you learned about her failure to function test noteworthy?" asked Assistant Hennepin County Attorney Joshua Larson.
"Yes," McGinnis said.
Potter's defense objected, and Hennepin County District Judge Regina Chu sustained the objection. Larson attempted to ask McGinnis twice if Potter violated department policy, but was thwarted by successful objections from Potter's defense.
McGinnis testified that Potter's handgun with 17 rounds inside — its condition after Wright was killed — weighed 2.11 pounds while her Taser weighed 0.94 pounds.
"So the gun with the ammo weighed about over twice as much as the Taser?" Larson asked.
"Yes," McGinnis testified.
McGinnis testified about other differences as a picture of Potter's Taser and handgun were shown to jurors: The yellow Taser has a stockier body, a smoother grip, a shorter handle and a flat trigger vs. the black gun's curved trigger. The Taser has an external safety while the handgun has an internal safety and a button that needs to be depressed to fire.
"When you're holding it, the Taser, I guess you can't get all your fingers on it," McGinnis said of the Taser's handle.
"Like your pinky finger?" Larson asked as he waved his pinky finger in the air.
"Correct," McGinnis said.
Larson tried to give jurors the Taser and handgun to hold in order to feel the differences, but Potter's defense objected. Chu sustained the objection after a private conversation with the attorneys, and told jurors they would have access to both de-activated weapons during their deliberations.
Earlier in his testimony, McGinnis stood at the witness stand and held a Taser of the same model aloft and activated the device, which beeped. He pointed it at the wall, showing jurors its LED light and laser which projected pinpoints of red and green light. The Taser's flashlight also shined a noticeable circle of white light in the courtroom.
Defense attorney Paul Engh focused his cross-examination of McGinnis on similarities between the two weapons. Engh used the word "gun" a few times to describe the Taser, prompting McGinnis to correct him.
"Tasers in general have a handle that is similar to a gun, correct — there are differences of course, but it's designed so you hold it in your hand, right?" Engh asked.
"Correct," McGinnis said.
"It's designed so that you pull a trigger like a gun, right?" Engh asked.
"They both have triggers, yes," McGinnis said.
"And it's designed so you aim at somebody, right?" Engh asked.
"Yes," McGinnis said.
Engh wrapped up by asking McGinnis whether Potter's blood tested positive for alcohol or marijuana, a throwback to the defense's ongoing focus on Wright's marijuana use. McGinnis, who escorted Potter to a hospital for a blood draw, said her blood did not contain either.
The fourth day of testimony in Potter's trial began with testimony from Assistant Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Lorren Jackson. Potter, 49, is on trial in Hennepin County on one count each of first- and second-degree manslaughter.
Jackson explained his findings as autopsy photos of Wright were shown to jurors and an overflow courtroom; the images were not broadcast on the trial's livestream. Wright's mother, Katie Bryant, told a pool reporter in the courtroom that his family opted not to watch that part of the trial but attended other portions.
Jackson testified that the bullet tore through Wright's heart and injured both of his lungs. It was recovered in his chest wall. More than 3 liters of blood was found in Wright's chest, he said, adding that a person of Wright's size typically has 4.5 to 5 liters of blood in his body.
"That's significant... when you lose half of that rapidly, your condition becomes critical," Jackson said, adding that Wright's injury was not survivable and would result in death within seconds to minutes.
Jackson testified that marijuana metabolites were found in Wright's blood. Defense attorney Earl Gray seized on the topic in his cross-examination. Under questioning by Gray, Jackson testified that Wright's blood had 43 nanograms per milliliter of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
"Is 43 a high rate?" Gray asked.
"Forty-three is a number within the normal range" of people who use marijuana, Jackson said.
"I don't know if you answered my question," Gray said. "Is that a high reading based on your experience, toxicology-wise?"
"It's on the high end of numbers that I see, yes," Jackson said.
Potter's defense previously told jurors that Wright's negligence in the form of marijuana use and resisting arrest contributed to the shooting. Police stopped Wright for a dangling air freshener and expired tabs, and discovered that he had an arrest warrant for carrying a gun without a permit. Wright broke free of an officer who tried to arrest him and jumped back inside his car; Potter then shot him once in the chest. Wright's car sped into the street and struck a moving car head-on.
Under questioning by Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Erin Eldridge, Jackson had testified that Wright could have lost consciousness in 10 to 15 seconds. Gray raised the possibility that Wright was conscious much longer as the car sped away, an attempt to minimize the prosecution's argument that Potter set chaos into motion by shooting a person in a car. Prosecutors have tried to show that shooting someone in a car is against department policy because of the extra danger the vehicle presents.
Potter's defense has also argued that Wright drove away as fast as a "jet," and could have fatally dragged Potter's co-worker on the other side of the car.
"He could have driven off like that and been alive for up to a minute, fair statement?" Gray asked.
"I would say that's possible," Jackson said.
Under redirect questioning by Eldridge, Jackson said, "Relative to the injury sustained during the gunshot wound, there is no significant importance to the level of THC found in the decedent's system."
Testimony resumes at 9 a.m. Tuesday.