Officer in Black man's killing: from leader to defendant

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This booking photo released by the Hennepin County, Minn., Sheriff shows Kim Potter, a former Brooklyn Center, Minn., police officer who is charged Wednesday, April 14, 2021, with second-degree manslaughter for killing 20-year-old Black motorist Daunte Wright in a shooting that ignited days of unrest and clashes between protesters and police. (Hennepin County Sheriff via AP)

In a matter of days, the white police officer who fatally shot a Black man in a Minneapolis suburb went from being a respected professional who trained less experienced colleagues and led the department's union, to a criminal defendant held up by community activists as a symbol of police aggression toward Black people.

Former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright in the chest during a Sunday traffic stop while she was training other officers. She offered her resignation Tuesday as outrage grew over Wright's death and Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott moved to fire her. The 26-year veteran was arrested Wednesday and charged with second-degree manslaughter.

Potter said in a resignation letter that she had “loved every minute of being a police officer and serving this community,” but felt resigning was “in the best interest of the community, the department and my fellow officers.”

Tim Gannon, the Brooklyn Center Police chief who also resigned Tuesday, has said Potter meant to fire her Taser at Wright. He called the shooting “an accidental discharge.” But activists said that was no excuse; that with her years of experience, Potter should not have made that mistake. And now they want more than her resignation: They want to make sure she can never work as a police officer again.

For the 48-year-old Potter, being an officer extended far beyond going out on patrol. She also rose to become the local union president and traveled across the state with the Minnesota Law Enforcement Memorial Association’s honor guard, which marches at funerals and memorials for officers killed in the line of duty.

But some Brooklyn Center residents say her decision to pull Wright over on Sunday was yet another example of law enforcement targeting Black men for traffic violations. Marquita Butler, a member of the city council, said numerous Black men, including her own brother, complained to her that police had racially profiled them.

Gannon and the city manager met with her brother, she said. Butler credited Gannon for taking the time to explain why people are pulled over. But, she added, “My brother expressed to him the fear of being shot and potentially killed, and the police dismissed that.”

Butler said as the city works to recover from Wright’s death, she wants to make it easier to file complaints with the police department and to “reimagine” what policing looks like.