25 mistakes former Police Officer Kimberly Potter made pulling over Daunté Wright.
Kimberly Potter’s gross negligence needlessly killed a young man.
Kimberly Potter may be a good person.
Most of us are.
After all, ever since Officer Michael McGee visited her Immaculate Conception Catholic Elementary School class in Columbia Heights, Minnesota to teach bicycle safety, she wanted to go into law enforcement.
“He really influenced me as a youngster that the police are good people. And, I wanted to be something like that some day.”
Kimberly Potter should never have been allowed to become a police officer.
At least, not an officer with the comprehensive and multifaceted powers we currently grant police, which include wielding lethal weapons.
Brooklyn Center has since implemented changes to police practice. Even so, the tragedy of Daunté Wright’s killing reflects horribly not only on this Minnesota small town’s department, but also on the practices for selecting and training of police officers across the nation. As if Officer Potter’s actions weren’t bad enough, Kimberly did not act in isolation. Sergeant Mychal Johnson — Potter’s direct supervisor — participated in the disastrous encounter.
Throughout the now notorious traffic stop of Mr. Wright in his brother’s 2011 white Buick LaCrosse — with Daunté’s girlfriend in the passenger seat and his mother at times listening through his phone — former Brooklyn Center veteran Patrol Officer Kimberly Potter repeatedly demonstrated gross negligence.
In at least 25 sad, shocking, bewildering — and ultimately, fatal — ways.
Potter allowed the probationary officer she was training — Oliver Luckey — to dictate pulling over Mr. Wright. She testified that had it been up to her, she likely would not have made the stop.
On the stand, Mrs. Potter said,
“Officer Luckey and I are considered only one officer. Because he’s in field training and he’s a probationary employee.”
With complete authority as the officer in charge, the decision to stop Daunté Wright rested only with Officer Potter.
Even after aggravating circumstances had been identified, Potter let trainee Luckey manage the arrest.
Daunté Wright had a gross misdemeanor warrant for carrying a pistol without a permit, as well as a regular misdemeanor warrant for fleeing from police. Additionally, an ex-parte order for protection had been filed against him.
Potter might have asked trainee Luckey, to step aside. In conjunction with her supervisor, Sergeant Johnson, she could have taken charge.
Had she judiciously interceded, she would have had a clear view as well as a clear communication channel with Daunté. Instead, even as her trainee confusedly continued to struggle with Mr. Wright, she impulsively pushed beside Oliver, squeezing her head and torso into the cramped space of the car.
And though she botched the handling of many of the physical mechanics involved, the presumably more experienced Kimberly might not have fumbled as badly with the handcuffs as did probationary Officer Luckey. Theoretically at least, Daunté’s breaking free and getting back into the car would then have been less of a possibility.
At the beginning of the encounter with no reason to do so, Potter had already un-fastened her gun’s protective snap, revealing she was pre-disposed not only to pull out her pistol, but to use it.
BEFORE signs of escalation, she stood supervising the unfolding scenario with her hand grasping her semi-automatic Glock. When she drew her gun, she immediately positioned her finger on the trigger.
Potter allowed Daunté Wright to get out of his car without cautioning probationary trainee Anthony Luckey first to insist the car be turned off. Her supervisor, Mychal Johnson, also did not think to take this precaution.
Throughout the escalation, Potter needlessly distracted herself.
As Probationary Officer Luckey attempted to handcuff Mr. Wright, she abruptly reached in and snatched what seemed to be the insurance information Daunté had been asked to provide. In so doing, she reduced her capabilities by taking away the use of one of her hands.
Under relatively predictable circumstances, Potter panicked at the first sign of difficulty.
She knew Mr. Wright had previously fled from police. Back up had been called. Her supervisor had arrived, and was assisting. Even so, as trainee Luckey attempted to cuff Daunté, she needlessly escalated the circumstances by shrieking,
“You’ve got a warrant!”
Her sudden anxiety scared the 20 year old into breaking away.
Potter did not properly supervise her trainee.
Before reaching to his belt for his handcuffs, Probationary Officer Luckey did not correctly position Daunté. Additionally, Trainee Luckey looked down and behind him to locate his cuffs.
Quickly handcuffing a detainee reduces risk of an officer using force.
Gerald Takano, a use of force specialist and law enforcement instructor, suggested proper protocol from first hand contact to locked cuffs should take only about 2 seconds.
Potter did not support Trainee Luckey nearly soon enough, nor at the most effective time. When Mr. Wright started to struggle after she raised her voice, Officer Potter might have immediately intervened to stabilize him. Instead, she did nothing until after Daunté sat back into the car.
Mr. Takano said,
“Once he stiffens up and shows he’s non-compliant… [the supervising officer’s] job is to move in immediately. Two officers with hands on the person. She didn’t grab him. I don’t understand why she did not grab him. It’s baffling.”
Jon Blum, Basic Law Enforcement Training Coordinator for the North Carolina Justice Academy and founder of Force Concepts, said,
“…the sooner I can stop [a struggle, the] less likely for injury to everybody. Not even deadly force — Taser or pepper spray or hands on. …The longer it takes to stop, the worse it can get for everyone. It increases the likelihood of injury. Fatigue sets in. There’s all these other things. If you’re having a hand-to-hand fight with someone on the side of the road, there’s chances it could go into the road. That’s more dangerous. …you should stop it sooner rather than later.”
Mr. Takano added,
“She’s holding the piece of paper while he is struggling. She’s not doing much while the other officer is trying to get control of Mr. Wright while he’s trying to get back into the car.”
Potter was never justified in using any kind of weapon.
Police categorize a suspect’s struggling into two categories; defensive and offensive. Defensive action, which involves the suspect trying to get away yet not taking aggressive action, never legitimizes a police officer’s firing either a Taser, or a gun.
“[With a] person not complying and pulling away, wanted for a minor offense, [a] Taser’s probably not [a] justified use of force to begin with. If he was only passively resisting, pulling away, that’s defensive. Offensive would be trying to assault — that’s where the Taser starts becoming justified.”
Potter did not try to ‘de-escalate’ the situation.
She did not communicate with Mr. Wright in firm, calming, or constructive ways. Instead, she became immediately explosive. After Daunté climbed back into the car, she started screaming, “I’m going to Tase you!”.
Since, one of Daunté’s warrants involved his having previously fled from police, at the outset a capable officer might well have cautioned Daunté against repeating his mistake. Advising him that again attempting to flee would only make matters much, much worse would have been a judicious, pre-emptive step.
Indeed, over the phone, Daunté’s mother reports she heard either Trainee Luckey or Sergeant Johnson say, “Daunté, don’t run!” Yet by then, because Potter had injected needless aggression, he was already struggling to break free.
Potter did not work, communicate, coordinate, or collaborate with her more experienced, and physically larger supervisor.
After Daunté’s outstanding warrants had been identified, Sergeant Mychal Johnson arrived on the scene. Throughout the encounter, he was present and participating.
Potter said she confused her gun with her Taser.
Given her preparations to ready her Glock, her conclusion seems far-fetched. While approaching to supervise the arrest, she had already unsnapped her gun holster. Before Mr. Wright stepped from the car, she was already firmly gripping her pistol with her right hand.
Potter demonstrated lack of awareness not only of the situation, but also seemed not to pay attention to her senses.
From the time she took it from him to the time she herself stepped into a squad car to be driven back to the station almost 15 minutes later, she unwittingly grasped Daunté’s insurance card. She clutched it as she pulled out her gun, as she fired it, as the Buick La Crosse drove off. As over and over and over again she wailed, “Oh my God!” and cradled her face in her hands, she kept it in her grip. She even kept clasping it as she sat on the ground, as she turned onto all fours, and after she rose to stand. As first Oliver Luckey, then Mychal Johnson consoled her, she continued hold onto the insurance card.
Proceeding as if she had no understanding she had pulled out her gun, Potter yelled, “Taser! Taser! Taser!”
Over the course of 5.5 seconds, her pistol not only remained noticeable in the grip of her right hand, but also visible in her own field of vision.
Her inaccurate shouts did not appropriately alert her fellow officers to imminent gun play.
Officer Potter showed little spatial perspective.
Though from her standing position, her supervisor’s hand was clearly visible securing the shifter, she seemed not to register this fact. Sergeant Johnson’s intervention made Daunté’s operating the car impossible.
Potter inspected her Taser only six of her previous 10 shifts.
In order to assure proper functioning, daily ‘sparking’ was required. She hadn’t tested her Taser on the morning of the incident.
Potter did not understand the ammunition she was using.
On the stand, she said had no knowledge her Taser had been loaded with long range cartridges, which precluded the need for point blank vicinity. Long range cartridges can be effective from up to 25 feet.
Potter did not comprehend how properly to use a Taser.
The Taser manual specifically says, “reasonable efforts should be made to target lower center mass and avoid the head, neck, chest and groin”. Though she had clear access to his hips and thighs, Mrs. Potter shot Daunté Wright through his heart and lungs.
Potter incorrectly carried her Taser.
The 26 year veteran wore her Taser on her left side with its handle facing back. She wore her Glock on her right side, also with its handle facing back.
Brooklyn Center’s police department manual instructs officers to carry Tasers on their non-dominant side, with the handle pointing front, the way trainee Lucky carried his. A front facing handle allows an officer to reach across and draw their taser with their dominant hand. Field Training Officer Potter’s incorrect positioning of her Taser made confusing her gun for her Taser more likely.
Potter fired a weapon at a person behind the wheel of a running car; an action forbidden and decried as dangerous and unsafe by her own police department.
The Taser manual says Tasers should not be deployed when recipients of a shock might cause “collateral injury” due to convulsions or loss of control, for example while in position to operate a motor vehicle.
Potter fired her pistol as three people other than Daunté Wright lay in the line of fire and stood high risk of being hit.
Alayna Albrecht-Payton sat in the passenger seat, inches away from her boyfriend. Trainee Luckey stood to Potter’s immediate right. Sergeant Johnson leaned over Alayna holding onto Mr. Wright’s right hand.
There was no time for the sergeant to pull his torso from the car and out of harm’s way before Kimberly pulled the trigger. Trainee Luckey was so close to Field Training Officer Potter, the cartridge casing from her pistol ejected into his face.
Potter did not render assistance.
As Daunté lay dying on the seat of his car approximately 100 yards away, Potter consoled herself as she collapsed. Rather than doing anything at all — and everything she could — to help her young victim, she thought only of herself.
Potter did not transmit information about the circumstances.
Her omission delayed medical attention to Daunté Wright, his girlfriend, and those in the vehicle his car slammed into,
Not being certain what they faced, arriving officers drew their guns, and did not enter the Buick LaCrosse to render aid to Mr. Wright until 8 1/2 minutes after their arrival. Officer Potter required her own ambulance.
As the minutes passed after she shot Daunté Wright, Potter demonstrated increasing mental instability. While first sitting down, and then facing the ground on all fours, she lamented she would go to prison. She stood up and became suicidal.
Over and over, she whimpered,
“Oh my God”.
Then, as Sergeant Johnson tried to reassure her, she said to him,
“Just let me kill myself, Mike.”
From that point, she kept whining,
“I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what happened. I don’t know what happened.”
Prompted by her anguished utterances and mental instability, Sergeant Johnson took back his pistol and emptied its live ammunition. In order to preserve evidence, he had initially swapped his pistol with hers.
Three police officers — two training supervisors, and a trainee — engaging one 20 year old boy.
A small, sacred boy who they all knew had a history of running.
When shouted at by Kimberly Potter, that diminutive boy resisted being detained and stepped back into his car. Still, because, the car’s gear lever had been secured, he had no ability to flee.
Fatally wounded, Daunté was able to pull away only because the explosion from Potter’s pistol caused Supervisor Johnson to recoil and pull out of the automobile.
The initial police command should have been to instruct Daunté to turn off the engine and hand over the keys.
Kimberly said during her testimony.
“It all went chaotic.”
A chaotic interpretation.
From an incapable officer.
A reaction of distress.
From an officer who didn’t possess the necessary stability to function as a member of the police.
Through her shocking lack of fitness for the job in which she was serving, Kimberly Potter herself introduced the chaos.
Qualified police officers would not characteristically label this situation, “chaotic.”
“I was very distraught. I had just shot somebody. I had never done that.”
Kimberly Potter had never fired her gun. Not once in her 26 years on the force. Indeed, she had never even taken her pistol from its holster. She had never used her Taser; having drawn it only a few times for, in her own words, “de-escalation purposes.”
The entire situation was clearly devastating for Kimberly. An officer who displays such egregiously poor judgement, and who becomes immediately incapacitated after shooting the person she was meaning to detain, should never have been issued a deadly weapon to begin with.
In response to her defense attorney’s question, Would it be routine for you to unsnap your holster?, she responded it would be routine, because…
“I’m only 5’3”. If I would get into a fight, I could lose my gun.”
Intending to be helpful.
Serving in a training role.
Contributing to community.
Having good intentions.
These attributes do not qualify anybody to carry lethal weapons.
They do not qualify anybody to serve as a police officer.
Not one of them.
Perhaps, they qualify a person to serve as a counselor, a social worker, a community service provider.
However, they don’t qualify one human being to be in position to end the life of another human being.
As the prosecutor went through the shooting, Mrs. Potter’s body heaved in convulsive sobs. Tears poured down her cheeks.
“I’m sorry it happened.
I’m so sorry.
I didn’t want to hurt anybody.”
26 year veteran former Police Officer Potter appears to be a good person.
She’s a wife.
Over two and a half decades as best she could, she provided dedicated service.
Her utter incompetence killed a young man.
She should never have been a police officer.
We should never have allowed her to become one.
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