MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The trial of a Minnesota police officer charged in the shooting death of Daunte Wright opened its second week of testimony on Monday with an assistant medical examiner telling jurors that the gunshot wound was “far and away” the most significant injury Wright suffered, despite his car crashing immediately afterward.
Wright, 20, was killed on April 11 after being pulled over in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center for having expired license plate tags and an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror. The officer who shot him, Kim Potter, is charged with manslaughter.
Potter, a 26-year police veteran who resigned two days after the shooting, said she meant to draw her Taser to stop Wright after he pulled away and got back in his car as officers tried to arrest him on a warrant for a weapon charge. Potter, 49, is white and Wright was Black. His death, which came while Derek Chauvin was on trial in nearby Minneapolis in George Floyd’s death, set off several nights of angry protests in Brooklyn Center.
Dr. Lorren Jackson, an assistant Hennepin County medical examiner, testified Monday that the gunshot wound causing injuries to Wright’s heart and lungs is what caused his death. He said with these injuries, one can survive “seconds to minutes.”
“Far and away the gunshot wound to the chest was the most significant injury,” he said during testimony in which he walked jurors through Wright’s autopsy.
Jackson testified that Wright had some cannabinoids, or THC and its metabolites, in his blood from smoking marijuana, but that they didn’t factor in his cause of death. Under cross-examination, Jackson testified that the level of THC metabolites in Wright’s blood was “on the high end” of numbers he sees, but was still within a normal range for people who use marijuana
Jurors were shown graphic images of Wright’s body as the assistant medical examiner found it on the ground at the scene, with some medical equipment still attached from efforts to save Wright’s life and some dried blood from the gunshot wound. They also saw autopsy photos.
Prosecutors spent the first week of testimony showing jurors police video of the traffic stop, in which an officer in training, Anthony Luckey, took the lead under Potter’s guidance.
The video showed the critical moments where Wright pulled away as Luckey was on the verge of handcuffing him, followed by Potter shouting “I’ll tase you!” and “Taser, Taser, Taser!” and then shooting him once with her handgun.
Jurors saw Potter falling to the ground and wailing immediately afterward, with other officers attempting to console her.
The defense has called the shooting a horrific mistake, but has also asserted that Potter would have been within her rights to used deadly force on Wright because he might have dragged a third officer, then-Sgt. Mychal Johnson, with his car.
Johnson testified Friday that he was holding Wright’s right arm with both hands to try to handcuff him, but that he dropped Wright’s arm when he heard Potter shout. Video appeared to show Johnson’s hands still in the car when the shot was fired.
Prosecutors have argued that Potter had extensive Taser training that included multiple warnings about not confusing it with a handgun. One of them, Matthew Frank, noted that Johnson hadn’t drawn either his Taser or gun.
The trial also has included extensive testimony and video from officers who hurried to the scene after Wright’s car, moving away from the traffic stop, collided with an oncoming vehicle.
Prosecutors blamed Potter for not immediately radioing details of the shooting so that Wright might have gotten medical aid more quickly; it took about 8 1/2 minutes before officers, uncertain of what they were dealing with, pulled him from his crashed vehicle.
Jackson testified that the gunshot wound, in his view, was not survivable.
Defense attorney Paul Engh complained that prosecutors were showing too much video that had nothing to do with the shooting of Wright, and requested a mistrial. But prosecutors are seeking an aggravated sentence if they win conviction and have to show that Potter’s actions endangered others. Judge Regina Chu dismissed the request.
The case is being heard by a mostly white jury.
State sentencing guidelines call for just over seven years in prison upon conviction of first-degree manslaughter and four years for second-degree, though prosecutors have said they plan to push for even longer sentences.
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