Daunte Wright's mother tearfully described his final moments to a jury as the first prosecution witness in ex-Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter's manslaughter trial Wednesday.
Katie Bryant began her testimony telling the jury about her son's love of basketball, his work history in retail and how he enrolled in a trades school to possibly learn to be a carpenter.
She described her son as "a jokester. He liked to make everybody laugh. He had a smile that would light up the room. He was my son."
She testified how he was a doting father to his son Daunte Jr., who just turned 2.
Court adjourned about 4:50 p.m. and was scheduled to resume Thursday morning with additional prosecution witnesses.
Under questioning from prosecutor Erin Eldridge, she explained how the car, which was registered to Wright's older brother Dallas, had been given to Wright a couple weeks earlier. She spoke of the day Wright asked for $50 for gas and to get the car washed, then left. He later called her through Facebook messenger when he was pulled over. She told him to hand the phone to the officer so she could explain the insurance situation.
"I heard the police officer come up to the vehicle and ask him to step out and Daunte said, 'For what, am I in trouble?'" she recounted. She heard the officer tell Wright to put the phone down, and then sounds of a struggle, including someone saying, "Don't run," and Wright saying "I'm not," before the phone disconnected. She tried calling back four or five times, then called via FaceTime, when a young woman answered the phone.
"She was screaming and I said, 'What's wrong?' And she said, 'They shot him,' and she faced the phone toward the driver's seat and my son was laying there, he was unresponsive and he looked dead."
The phone disconnected again and Bryant called 911 and was eventually given the location of where Wright was shot. She went there and saw the crashed car, and her son's body under a sheet. She knew it was him because she recognized his tennis shoes. Police body camera footage played in court showed a distraught Bryant at the scene saying "You shot him why? Because he had a … warrant? Are you serious?"
Through tears, Bryant testified that she still has scars from biting the insides of her cheeks, trying to wake up from a bad dream.
"I knew, I knew," she said of the body under the sheet. "but I didn't want to know."
Bryant testified that she remained at the crash scene for eight or nine hours while her son's body was on the ground nearby. She said police would not allow her to get close to her son.
"I felt like I could leave until … they took his body off the ground," she said. "I wanted to comfort my baby. I wanted to hold him. I wanted to protect him. That's what mothers do."
Under brief cross-examination by defense attorney Earl Gray, Bryant said she knew Wright had no car insurance, no driver's license but did not know there was a warrant for her son's arrest until she heard someone say that at the scene where his car crashed after the shooting.
Gray also questioned Bryant about showing up four days after Wright was shot to give a statement to police and how she had several lawyers with her. She acknowledged that she was weighing the filing of a lawsuit at the time.
Bryant's testimony followed opening statements, where the prosecution alleged that the former Brooklyn Center police officer had her gun drawn on Daunte Wright for more than 5 seconds before she fatally shot him, while the defense countered that she feared her partner would be killed when she mistook the weapon for a Taser.
Next to testify was Brooklyn Center Police office Anthony Luckey, who made the initial traffic stop on eastbound 63rd Avenue. Luckey recounted what he learned about Wright's arrest warrant and had him get out of the vehicle.
Luckey said Wright was compliant until he tried to put handcuffs on him. He said a struggle ensued, and feared Wright was going to drive off.
"'Don't do it, bro,' " he said he told Wright while feeling him grow tense.
That's when Potter intervened, Luckey said.
"I heard Officer Potter say 'I'm going to tase you,' " he testified. "I was trying to gain control of Daunte. again, "I heard her say 'I'm going to tase you.' That's when I heard 'Taser! Taser' "
In the next moment "that's when I just heard a bang," he said. "It was a firearm. ... I just [saw] a flash and smoke."
Luckey said he backed off, and Wright drove away east on 63rd and soon crashed.
"I realized what had happened and immediately seen Potter," the officer said. "She became hysterical and stated that she shot him."
Extended body camera footage showed a hysterical Potter repeating "Oh my God!" while Luckey tells her, "Just breathe."
Under cross-examination, Luckey repeated that the unlicensed Wright should not have been driving that day, and "you were never going to let him drive away?" The officer responded, "Yes."
Along with the marijuana residue on the console and the odor of the drug coming from the car, "you had a number of concerns about him?" Again, the officer said, "Yes."
Then upon learning of the warrant for a weapons charge, Luckey testified, he needed to be on guard that Wright was armed — which he was not — while driving in what he said is an area where there are many shootings.
"You couldn't let him go?" Luckey replied, "No."
Luckey added that if he had been in Potter's position under those circumstances, he would have been justified to deploy his Taser "just because at the moment he was not in control of the vehicle. … As long as they don't have control of the vehicle, it would be plausible.
Potter, 49, is charged in Hennepin County District Court with first- and second-degree manslaughter in connection with the death of Wright on April 11.
"This case is about the defendant Kimberly Potter betraying her badge, betraying her oath and betraying the position of public trust," prosecutor Eldridge said in her opening statement. "And on April 11th of this year she betrayed a 20-year-old kid, she pulled out her firearm, she pointed it as his chest and she shot and killed Daunte Wright."
Referring to Potter's contention that she meant to shoot Wright with a Taser on her left hip but drew her handgun with her right hand, Eldridge told the jurors, "We expect not to be shot dead on the street for no reason. … We trust wrong from right and left from right."
Eldridge said that Potter "failed to get it right."
Paul Engh, making the defense opening statement countered, "She made a mistake. This was an accident. She's a human being, ... She believed that she possessed a Taser. That's why she said 'Taser! Taser! Taser!' She didn't say Gun! Gun! Gun!"
Engh noted that a fellow officer was inside the vehicle and struggling with Wright as he tried to drive away upon learning he's being arrested for an outstanding warrant in connection with a firearms offense. In addition to the warrant, Engh said the officers smelled marijuana and Wright had no license, along with an active restraining order taken out against him.
"Mr. Wright can't escape, and she knows that if he's not stopped, he's about to drive away with a police officer dangling from his car," the defense attorney said. "And she knows if she does nothing, Mr. Wright drives away and either potentially harms Sergeant Johnson or likely kills him.
"So when she says 'Taser! Taser! Taser!' there's one last pause, Mr. Wright can stop, all he has to do is stop. But he goes. She can't let him leave, because he's gonna kill her partner. so she yells Taser Taser Taser, and she pulls the trigger believing that it was a Taser."
The prosecution, while outlining its version of what happened during the traffic stop, rolled a brief video from one of the squad cars that showed how the officers went about trying to arrest Wright.
The prosecution then went on to outline its version of what happened during the traffic stop. The defense will soon follow with its opening statement.
A brief video from one of the squad cars was played for the jury and showed how the officers went about trying to arrest Wright on a warrant in connection with a firearms offense.
Potter drew her gun "with her finger on the trigger," Eldridge said.
"I'll tase you!" Potter was heard on the video rolling in the courtroom. "Taser! Taser! Taser!"
For 5 1⁄2 seconds, the gun was aimed at Wright, Eldridge said, before Potter "aims, pulls the trigger and fires into his chest."
Eldridge said the fact that Potter didn't mean to kill Wright was irrelevant.
"It's not about intent to kill, that's not why you're here today," Eldridge said. "...No one will say that [Potter] wanted this to happen, and no one is even saying that she meant to shoot him with her gun. But the evidence will show that's what she did: She fired her gun at point-blank range into Daunte Wright's chest."
Eldridge spelled out the years of training Potter received and manufacturer warnings about Taser use and the deadly potential of drawing a firearm instead.
"The defendant flouted that training," the prosecutor said, pointing out that Potter went through her most recent review about 6 weeks before Wright was shot.
Eldridge closed With a photo of Wright's bloodied bluejean jacket on display, On the front was the word "Heartbreaker" in large, red letters.
"The defendant shot and killed Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old who had an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror," she said, "a kid in a heartbreaker jean jacket. But ... Daunte Wright was not the heartbreaker, it was Daunte Wright who had his heart broken, and it was the defendant who broke Daunte Wright's heart when she fired a hollow-point bullet straight into his chest."
In his opening statement, Engh spelled out that police on the scene learned increasingly concerning details about Wright, and this was not a traffic stop about an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror.
They also determined that his vehicle registration tabs were expired, his driver's license was suspended, the warrant for his arrest and a court order for protection taken out by a woman against him.
"A court order directed [Officer Anthony Luckey] to arrest him," Engh said, his voice rising as he pounded the podium. "This is standard police work here."
"Ms. Potter's good name has been besmirched by this allegation which is not true, and by press coverage which has been slanted, and we seek to reclaim it," Engh said. "And reclaim it we will."
Proceedings started with defense objections to various prosecution exhibits, including autopsy photos. Judge Regina Chu ruled that the photos are to remain as exhibits.
Chu also said the prosecution can offer three photos — and not five as requested — during "spark of life" testimony, when loved ones will speak about Wright in sympathetic terms.
Opening statements allow attorneys on both sides to preview for jurors their respective cases. It will be during closing arguments by the attorneys, after all the evidence has been presented and testimony concludes, when the attorneys will use their best persuasive skills for acquittal or conviction ahead of jury deliberations.
Among the key moments in the trial, which is expected to last into late December and is being broadcast on a livestream, are the showing of police body camera video of the encounter and Potter's testimony when the defense presents its case.
Potter yelled "Taser!" three times before shooting the 20-year-old Wright with her handgun. Her defense has said Potter meant to fire her Taser but mistakenly shot her service firearm instead.
In the criminal complaint against Potter, prosecutors noted that she received Taser training twice in the six months leading up to the shooting and was warned to learn how to differentiate between her handgun and Taser.
Wright was stopped for expired vehicle registration tabs, and police discovered that he had a warrant for his arrest for a gross misdemeanor weapons charge. Body camera video showed him pulling away from an officer trying to handcuff him and jumping into his car.
Potter's defense has argued that one of Potter's colleagues standing on the other side of Wright's car could have been fatally dragged as he attempted to flee.
"He didn't follow police orders," defense attorney Paul Engh said in court Monday as attorneys debated the details of the jury instructions that Judge Regina Chu will give jurors on how to apply the law. "He had marijuana and the odor of marijuana in his car. ... His own negligence contributed to the tragedy here."
The trial began on Nov. 30 with jury selection. Of the 14 chosen to hear the case involving a white defendant and a Black victim, 11 are white, two are Asian women and one is a Black woman.
Seven of the jurors are men, and seven are women. Three are in their 20s, two are in their 30s, four are in their 40s, two are in their 50s, two are in their 60s and one is in her 70s.