MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced Friday that his office will lead the prosecution of a former suburban police officer who is charged with second-degree manslaughter in the death of Daunte Wright.
Former Brooklyn Center Officer Kim Potter, who is white, fatally shot Wright, a 20-year-old Black motorist, on April 11. The city’s police chief, who has since stepped down, had said he believed Potter meant to use her Taser instead of her handgun.
“Daunte Wright’s death was a tragedy. He should not have died on the day that he did. He should not have died the way that he did,” Ellison said in a statement.
Ellison said he took the case at the request of Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, after another prosecutor — Washington County Attorney Pete Orput — gave the case back to Freeman's office.
Orput initially had the case under an agreement signed last year in which metro-area prosecutors said they would take each other's cases in which someone dies after an officer uses force. After Orput charged Potter with manslaughter, he came under intense pressure from activists who called for murder charges to be filed. Protesters held demonstrations outside his home.
Orput had said publicly that he believed manslaughter was the appropriate charge. Ellison said a review of the evidence and the charges against Potter is underway, but his statement did not indicate whether murder charges would be filed.
Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney who was among those demonstrating outside Orput's house, said she was glad to hear Ellison's office was taking the case . However, she said she would accept nothing less than murder charges.
“The case rises to the level of murder charges,” she said. “This is not the situation where an officer should receive a slap on the wrist. ... I don't know why anyone should accept a manslaughter charge."
Levy Armstrong said she believes racial profiling led to Wright's initial stop by police and Potter escalated the situation. She also said Potter's decades on the force and the fact that she should've known better as a trainer all point to reasons for more serious charges.
Wright's mother has said he was pulled over for an air freshener that was hanging from his rearview mirror; police say he was stopped for expired tabs, and then officers discovered he had a warrant for a gross misdemeanor weapons charge. Potter fatally shot Wright seconds after he pulled away from officers as they tried to arrest him.
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, also welcomed Ellison's involvement and said he believes a third-degree murder charge should be filed.
“Obviously our next step is to see, after reviewing all of the facts, if there will be additional charges, which we think are warranted in this case,” he said.
Ellison said Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank, who manages the office's criminal division, will supervise the case. Frank was one of the trial attorneys in the case against Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer convicted of murder and manslaughter in the May 25 death of George Floyd. Ellison will actively assist, and Freeman's office will also provide staff.
“I did not seek this prosecution and do not accept it lightly,” Ellison said. “I have had, and continue to have, confidence in how both County Attorney Orput and County Attorney Freeman have handled this case to date. ... Prosecutors are ministers of justice. This means we must and will follow justice wherever it leads."
When asked whether the Chauvin case would be a template for how Ellison will handle Potter's case, Ellison told the Washington Post that every case is unique. "Our approach will be tailored to the case itself. I don’t want anyone to expect that because we did one thing in one case we’re going to do the same thing in another case.”
In his statement, Ellison said: “If prosecutors ensure that prosecutions are vigorous and swift, if legislators at every level pass long-overdue reforms, if police leadership demonstrates misconduct has no place in the profession, and if community continues to keep up the cry for justice, we will break the cycle of history and establish a new standard for justice.”
Orput thanked Ellison for his leadership and said in a statement that he was grateful Ellison's office took the case, adding that he believes the review and prosecution of cases like this belong with the Attorney General's Office.
Gov. Tim Walz said he was also glad Ellison's office was taking the case. He said that he and the first lady hosted the Wright family at the Governor's Residence this week and heard their desire to have the strongest legal team to seek justice for their family.
“No verdict will bring Daunte back to his family, but I have full faith that Attorney General Ellison will build the best team possible to pursue accountability for what happened that tragic day,” Walz said.
Find AP’s full coverage of the death of Daunte Wright at: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-daunte-wright