BROOKLYN CENTRE, Minnesota (REUTERS) - The fatal police shooting of a 20-year-old Black man in a Minneapolis suburb appeared to be an "accidental discharge" by an officer who drew her gun instead of her Taser during a struggle following a traffic stop, the city's police chief said on Monday (April 12).
The shooting on Sunday of Daunte Wright triggered unrest in Brooklyn Centre, Minnesota, with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who were demonstrating against the latest in a string of police killings of Black men at the hands of police.
On Monday, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz set a curfew for the counties that include Minneapolis and St Paul from 7pm until 6am CST on Tuesday, raising an already heightened security stance due to the ongoing trial of Derek Chauvin, the former white Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering George Floyd.
Brooklyn Centre police chief Tim Gannon told a news briefing on Monday that a routine traffic stop, triggered by an expired car registration, escalated into a deadly shooting when officers ran a check on Wright and found an outstanding warrant for him.
Video footage presented at the briefing showed an officer trying to handcuff Wright next to the car, before he breaks free and gets back inside the car. At that point, a second officer yells, "Taser, Taser, Taser," before firing a single shot from her handgun, according to the recording.
"Holy shit, I just shot him," the policewoman is heard to yell as the car rolls away.
"This appears to me, from what I viewed and the officers' reaction and distress immediately after, that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr Wright," Gannon said, adding that the investigation was in its early stages and based on evidence reviewed by the police.
Brooklyn Centre Mayor Mike Elliott said the officer, who was placed on administrative leave and has not been identified, should be fired.
Elliot said the shooting "couldn't have happened at a worse time" with the trial of Chauvin forcing another reckoning with the death of Floyd, which triggered nationwide protests over racism and police brutality last year.
Biden urges investigation
US President Joe Biden urged a "full-blown investigation" into Wright's death and called on protesters in Minnesota to be peaceful.
"It is really a tragic thing that happened, but I think we've got to wait and see what the investigation shows," Biden told reporters at the White House.
Walz, a Democrat, said he was going to push the state's legislature to hold hearings to consider policing reforms that have been adopted in other states that are supported by law enforcement and "would reduce the chance of a routine traffic stop escalating to a loss of life."
Ben Crump, a civil rights attorney who helped win a US$27 million legal settlement for the Floyd family, said he is also representing the Wrights.
"Daunte Wright is yet another young Black man killed at the hands of those who have sworn to protect and serve all of us - not just the whitest among us," Crump said in a statement. "As Minneapolis and the rest of the country continue to deal with the tragic killing of George Floyd, now we must also mourn the loss of this young man and father."
Wright's mother, Katie Wright, had told reporters on Sunday she had received a call from her son on Sunday afternoon telling her that police had pulled him over for having air fresheners dangling from his rear-view mirror, which is illegal in Minnesota. She could hear police tell her son to get out the vehicle, she said.
Gannon, who described the officer as "very senior" in the department, said that when police pulled Wright over due to an expired licence plate "a hanging item from the rear-view mirror" was discovered.