A use-of-force expert testified Wednesday that it was unreasonable for former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter to use a Taser — let alone a handgun — when attempting to arrest a resisting Daunte Wright during an April traffic stop before she shot and killed him.
University of South Carolina School of Law Associate Professor Seth Stoughton said that, rather than use a Taser, police could have let Wright, who slid back into the driver's seat as an officer was attempting to handcuff him, drive off because he was "unlikely to avoid future apprehension" because his identity was known.
Stoughton agreed with the defense claim that Potter mistakenly grabbed her Glock handgun but said even the Taser was inappropriate to use on Wright as he sat behind the wheel of the white Buick.
"It's really dangerous to incapacitate the way that a Taser can incapacitate someone who is in a position to get a vehicle moving, You can create an unguided hazard," he said, adding that the pain from a Taser would provide "incentive to flee."
His testimony led to a combative cross-examination by defense lawyer Earl Gray, who questioned Stoughton's credentials, experience and conclusion that the three Brooklyn Center officers should have let Wright drive away.
Potter is on trial for first- and second-degree manslaughter and, if convicted, faces several years in prison. The defense says she was justified in using deadly force, though she meant to use her Taser on Wright to disable him but mistakenly grabbed her handgun.
The prosecution says she ignored her 26 years of experience and training and recklessly or negligently grabbed the wrong weapon from her belt.
The prosecution is expected to formally rest Thursday, having culminated Wednesday with Arbuey Wright, Daunte's 42-year-old father, on the stand, tearfully providing sentimental "spark-of-life" testimony about missing his late son.
But first came Gray's cross-examination of Stoughton, which was so combative that he was told multiple times by Judge Regina Chu not to interrupt or speak at the same time as the witness. Gray responded by asking the judge to tell Stoughton to stick to single-word, yes-or-no answers only. Chu told Gray that she wouldn't do that.
Gray asked Stoughton, who once worked as a police officer, whether he would have heightened concerns about the driver of a vehicle who had an arrest warrant for a weapons charge, as Wright did. Stoughton says he couldn't answer yes or no.
Gray asked if the police work on the stop of Wright was OK until he slipped off the handcuffs. Stoughton responded, "I would not describe it as the best tactical approach, no."
Gray retorted, "You wouldn't describe it that way, but you haven't been a police officer for 15 years."
Gray asked whether Wright's behavior caused the chaos at the stop.
"I wouldn't say it was only because of that, but that was part of it," Stoughton answered.
He pressed Stoughton on Wright's resistance.
"Would that cause you to be concerned that maybe he's wanted for something else? Wouldn't that be good police work?" Gray asked.
Stoughton said that without an additional warrant, he wouldn't be concerned.
Under direct questioning from prosecutor Matthew Frank, Stoughton called the use of force "excessive and inappropriate." He found that there was no threat of Brooklyn Center police Sgt. Mychal Johnson, who was reaching into the car from the passenger side, being dragged and injured as he himself testified earlier this week.
Frank played a few frames of video from Johnson's body camera when he was partly in the car and had his hand on the gear shift, blocking Wright's hand from grabbing the shaft. He showed that Johnson backed away as Potter yelled "Taser" multiple times.
"In your opinion, if a reasonable officer in officer Potter's position was aware that the warnings about the Taser had caused Sergeant Johnson to back out of the vehicle, would it have been reasonable and proportional to use deadly force?" Frank asked.
"No, because there's no threat of bodily harm, no threat of being dragged by the vehicle once he's out of the vehicle," Stoughton said.
After objections by the defense, Chu warned the prosecution that Stoughton couldn't speculate about what Potter knew at the moment of the shooting.
"What he can testify to is (what) a reasonable officer in officer Potter's position would have done," Chu said.
Stoughton, who was paid $295 an hour for his work on the case and a $3,000 flat rate for his day in court, also testified in April during Derek Chauvin's murder trial for the death of George Floyd. Stoughton said a handcuffed Floyd posed no threat to Chauvin, who was convicted of murder.
Under redirect questioning from Frank, Stoughton said Wright wasn't engaging in assault and wasn't aggressive, just seeking to flee.
Frank asked if officers are still required to use "reasonable force" on a suspect attempting to flee. Stoughton said yes.
"The fact that someone is resisting certainly justifies some force but does not allow officers to use any amount of force," he said.
When the jury was out of the room, defense attorney Paul Engh sought to introduce Wright's prior incidents fleeing police to counter the notion that he should have been allowed to leave and be arrested later.
"I will make an offer of proof of every time this kid has run away and not been found," Engh said, pounding the lectern and calling Stoughton's testimony false.
Frank countered, "There has been no false impression given to the jury, because the witness' entire testimony was couched in what a reasonable officer would have done based on what that officer knew at the time."
Chu denied the defense request, saying evidence of Wright's fleeing would only be allowed if Potter knew about it at the time of the traffic stop April 11.
Earlier in the day, Sgt. Michael Peterson, who trains Brooklyn Center police officers on use of force, agreed under defense questioning that a Taser can be employed for many of the circumstances that Potter faced when attempting to arrest Wright.
If someone is trying to get back in a car, "that person can be Tased?" Engh asked. Peterson said yes.
He also acknowledged that the Taser manufacturer warns its buyers that the device can be confused with a handgun.
"Otherwise, why warn you?" Engh said. "Mistakes can happen?"
Peterson said yes and that he was aware of several.
The day concluded with Wright's father on the stand. Arbuey Wright smiled as he recalled being Daunte's boss at the shoe store he managed.
"It was a great challenge to work with my son," Arbuey Wright said, recalling how he once had to send Daunte home early because he was on his phone. "I tried to let him understand that at work I was his boss and [at] home I'm your dad."
Shown a photo of the two of them taken shortly before the shooting, Arbuey Wright said, "We had a close relationship. He was me and my wife's first child."
Then came a photo of Daunte holding his year-old son, Daunte Jr.
"To see him as a father, it was like I was so happy for him because he was so happy," the elder Wright said. "It was my chance to be a grandfather."
When the prosecution concludes Thursday, the defense is expected to call several witnesses, including Potter herself.