US cop meant to draw Taser in fatal shooting, says police chief

He says initial review of video footage suggests shooting of black man seemed unintentional

A protester confronting police officers in Brooklyn Centre, Minneapolis, on the second day of unrest after Sunday's fatal shooting of Mr Daunte Wright by the police. A medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, confirming in an autopsy that the sla
A protester confronting police officers in Brooklyn Centre, Minneapolis, on the second day of unrest after Sunday's fatal shooting of Mr Daunte Wright by the police. A medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, confirming in an autopsy that the slain motorist, who police said was pulled over due to an expired vehicle registration, was killed by a gunshot wound to the chest. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BROOKLYN CENTRE (Minneapolis) • The police chief of a Minneapolis suburb where a young black man was shot to death by police during a traffic stop, sparking two nights of civil unrest, has said the officer in question apparently drew her gun instead of her Taser by mistake when she opened fire.

Judging from an initial review of police video footage of officers' fatal encounter on Sunday with Mr Daunte Wright, 20, in the town of Brooklyn Centre, police chief Tim Gannon said the shooting seemed unintentional.

"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," he told a news briefing on Monday.

The Hennepin County medical examiner ruled the death a homicide, confirming in an autopsy that the slain motorist, who police said was pulled over due to an expired vehicle registration, was killed by a gunshot wound to the chest.

During a memorial vigil on Monday evening at the spot where Mr Wright was killed, relatives remembered him as a good-natured father who worked multiple jobs to support his two-year-old son, and they rejected the notion that a mere accident was to blame for his death.

His older half sibling, Mr Dallas Wright, told the crowd as rain began to fall: "My brother lost his life because they were trigger-happy."

His mother, Mrs Katie Wright, said as she wept: "My heart is broken in a thousand pieces... I miss him so much, and it's only been a day. He was my life, he was my son and I can never get that back. Because of a mistake? Because of an accident?"

His father, Mr Aubrey Wright, told The Washington Post that his son had dropped out of high school a few years earlier due to a learning disability.

The shooting roiled a region already on edge as last year's killing of Mr George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died with his neck pinned to a Minneapolis street under a white policeman's knee, was being recounted in the trial of a former officer charged with Mr Floyd's murder.

Mr Wright was killed just 16km from where Mr Floyd lost his life in an arrest for allegedly passing a bogus US$20 (S$27) bill, unleashing a months-long nationwide upheaval of protests and civil strife over racial injustice in the US law enforcement system.

Sunday's shooting of Mr Wright immediately ignited a night of street skirmishes between police and protesters in Brooklyn Centre, with local news media reporting looting and burglaries of about 20 businesses at a nearby shopping centre.

Disturbances flared anew on Monday, as hundreds of protesters braving a steady downpour and defying a curfew ordered by Governor Tim Walz clashed with law enforcement officers as darkness fell outside the police headquarters in Brooklyn Centre.

A crowd surged against a chain-link fence erected to keep protesters at bay, some hurling bottles and other projectiles as police responded by firing volleys of tear gas and what appeared to be non-lethal plastic rounds. A nearby discount store was looted and vandalised, but the bulk of the demonstrators appeared to have drifted away by 10pm local time.

Mr Gannon told reporters hours earlier that a routine traffic stop of Mr Wright had escalated into a deadly confrontation when officers ran a check on his expired vehicle registration and found an outstanding warrant for him.

Police did not elaborate on the warrant, but public records showed a judge had issued a warrant for Mr Wright's failure to appear in court on two misdemeanour charges last summer, according to The New York Times.

Police video footage presented by Mr Gannon showed an officer trying to handcuff Mr Wright next to the car, before Mr Wright broke free and got back inside his car. At that point, a second officer yells "Taser, Taser, Taser" before firing a single shot from her handgun, the video shows.

"Holy s***, I just shot him," the policewoman is heard to shout as the car rolls away with Mr Wright still in the driver's seat. The car travelled several blocks before striking another vehicle and coming to a stop.

The police officer who fired the fatal shot, later identified as 26-year department veteran Kim Potter, was placed on administrative leave. Mayor Mike Elliott called for her dismissal.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2021, with the headline 'US cop meant to draw Taser in fatal shooting, says police chief'. Subscribe