Officer Seen Struggling With Daunte Wright Testifies
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A police sergeant who was at the scene when Daunte Wright was shot testified Friday that he was holding Wright's right arm with both hands in an attempt to handcuff him in the moments before he was shot.
Mychal Johnson, who was a patrol sergeant in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center at the time of Wright’s killing, took the stand Friday as prosecutors resumed their case in the manslaughter trial of former police officer Kim Potter, who says she mistakenly fired her gun instead of her Taser.
Johnson, who is now a major in the Goodhue County Sheriff’s Office, testified that he opened the passenger-side door after Wright started to pull away from another officer, leaned into the car, pushed the shift knob forward to make sure it was in park and reached for the keys to try to turn off the vehicle.
He said he then grabbed Wright’s right arm with both hands to prevent him from putting the car in drive and to handcuff him. Johnson said that at the time, he couldn’t see the other officer, Anthony Luckey, and he didn’t know what Potter was doing.
Body camera footage shows that as Potter yelled “Taser, Taser, Taser!” Johnson was using both of his hands to hold Wright’s hand and arm.
Johnson testified that he heard the Taser command followed by a “loud pop,” which he initially thought was a Taser. It was difficult to tell from the video whether Johnson was still reaching into the car when the shot was fired.
Potter, 49, is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter in the April 11 shooting of Wright, who was pulled over for having expired license tags and an air freshener hanging from his mirror. Potter, who quit the Brooklyn Center police force two days after his death, has said she meant to use her Taser on Wright.
Potter is white. Wright, 20, was Black. The shooting set off days of protests and clashes with law enforcement in Brooklyn Center just as former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was standing trial nearby in George Floyd’s death.
Prosecutors say Potter was a veteran officer who violated her training. Defense attorneys say Potter made a mistake but would have been justified in shooting Wright if she’d consciously chosen to because other officers, including Johnson, might have been dragged if Wright drove away.
Video shows Johnson trying to comfort Potter after the shooting, as she was on the ground, crying and rocking with her head in her hands.
“Kim, take a breath. Kim, you’re OK,” he told Potter. He also said: “Kim, that guy was trying to take off with me in the car.”
On Thursday, prosecutors played extensive video of the aftermath, showing jurors images of officers pulling him from his car and attempting lifesaving measures.
Wright’s passenger and girlfriend, Alayna Albrecht-Payton, testified that Wright “was just gasping” after he was shot and described her panic.
“I grabbed, like, whatever was in the car. I don’t remember if it was a sweater or a towel or a blanket or something … and put it on his chest like, like you know, you see in movies and TV shows,” said Albrecht-Payton, who said she began her relationship with Wright just weeks before he died. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Albrecht-Payton also apologized to Wright’s mother, Katie Bryant, who had called his phone trying to reestablish contact after a call with him was cut off right before he was shot. Bryant testified tearfully a day earlier that she first saw her son’s apparently lifeless body via that video call.
“I pointed the camera on him,” Albrecht-Payton said. “And I’m so sorry I did that.”
A stream of police officers and emergency medical workers followed Albrecht-Payton to the stand on Thursday, eventually prompting Potter attorney Paul Engh to seek a mistrial on the grounds that the state was presenting evidence irrelevant to her guilt or innocence, and instead was showing evidence consisting of “sordid pictures and prejudicial impact.”
Prosecutor Matthew Frank pointed out that the state is seeking an aggravated sentence for Potter if she’s convicted, and that to do so, it must show the wider impact of her actions. Judge Regina Chu quickly dismissed the motion, though she did tell prosecutors to avoid showing the jury duplicate autopsy pictures.
Body-camera video showed Wright pulling away from officers and getting back in his car as they tried to arrest him on an outstanding warrant. After he was shot, the car drove down the street and crashed into another vehicle.
The collision was captured by Officer Alan Salvosa's police car dashcam, which was behind the car when Wright’s vehicle struck it.
Salvosa’s body camera showed him calling for aid as he drew his weapon and repeatedly ordered “Put your hands up!” to the occupants of Wright’s car. The passenger — Albrecht-Payton — is heard saying “I can’t.” Salvosa testified that he couldn't see into the rear of the car, which he knew had just left a location where officers were seeking to make an arrest.
As Salvosa waited for backup and ambulances, about 8 1/2 minutes passed from the moment of the crash before officers moved in to begin trying to help Wright. Testimony and body-camera footage showed that officers weren’t sure what they were dealing with and took time to approach the car safely.
Prosecutors also called the wife and the daughter of a man who was in the car struck by Wright’s to testify about the toll the crash took on the man’s health. Denise Lundgren Wells testified that her father, Kenneth Lundgren, had health issues before the crash but that his decline accelerated afterward. He is now in his 80s and in hospice care, she testified.
Frank, the prosecutor, said the post-shooting evidence is aimed at showing that Potter's actions created a danger to others beyond Wright — something the state will have to prove as it seeks a longer sentence for Potter than is called for under the state's guidelines.
Chu ruled that the state must eliminate duplicate autopsy photos, and that any images of Wright with his eyes open must be blacked out above the nose.
“The jury is not supposed to be deciding this case based upon sympathy, passion or anything of that sort,” she said.
The case is being heard by a mostly white jury.
First-degree manslaughter requires prosecutors to prove Potter acted recklessly. Second-degree requires them to prove culpable negligence. Neither charge requires proof that she intended to kill. State sentencing guidelines call for just over seven years in prison on the first charge and four years on the other.