Brooklyn Center chief: Cop meant to use Taser on Wright; curfew in effect in metro area

Three people seen at a press conference.
Brooklyn Center police Chief Tim Gannon, center, attends a press conference regarding the killing of Daunte Wright on Sunday at the Brooklyn Center police headquarters on Monday in Brooklyn Center, Minn. Gannon referred to the incident as an "accidental discharge" and that the officer who shot and killed Wright meant to grab their Taser.
Stephen Maturen | Getty Images

3 things we know:

  • A curfew in effect for four metro-area counties — Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka and Dakota — from 7 p.m. Monday through 6 a.m. Tuesday

  • Brooklyn Center police chief says the officer who shot Daunte Wright meant to use Taser on him, not handgun

  • The officer ID’d as a 26-year veteran of the city’s Police Department

Updated 9:25 p.m.

Gov. Tim Walz on Monday ordered a four-county curfew overnight into Tuesday to help keep the peace as the Twin Cities reeled over news of another fatal encounter with police, this time in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center.

Nearly an hour after the curfew went into effect, hundreds of people were gathered outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department Monday evening, demanding justice for Daunte Wright, who was shot and killed by police during a traffic stop on Sunday.

The Brooklyn Center police chief said earlier in the day that the officer who shot and killed Wright had intended to stun the man with her Taser gun but accidentally drew her handgun instead and fired once.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigating the killing has identified the officer who fatally shot Wright as 26-year veteran Kim Potter of the Brooklyn Center Police Department. Potter was placed on standard administrative leave, the BCA says.

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Reports of the shooting brought demonstrations Sunday into Monday and left officials scrambling to allow people room to express their grief over Daunte Wright’s killing while still keeping the peace.

Walz ordered a curfew from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. for Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka and Dakota counties and warned people not to use the tragedy as an excuse for violence.

The Minnesota National Guard said it expected to have 1,000 troops active by the end of the day to help enforce the curfew.

The curfew order allows for “essential travel” but it’s not clear how much discretion will be allowed for, say, peaceful demonstrations after 7 p.m. Activists had to reschedule a vigil that was originally scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at the site of the killing. That’s been changed to 6 p.m.

Wright’s brother, Dallas Bryant, told about a hundred people gathered for the candlelight vigil Monday evening that his brother sounded scared during a phone call, and questioned how the officer could accidentally reach for a gun instead of a Taser.

“You know the difference between plastic and metal. We all know it,” he said.

Local enforcement officials pleaded with residents to abide the curfew and to tell the youth in their care to do the same.

"In this moment, we need help,” said Col. Matt Langer, chief of the Minnesota State Patrol. “We need help from Minnesotans … to give some space to get through today, tonight, peacefully."

‘Our hearts are aching’

Brooklyn Center Chief Tim Gannon played a clip of the police camera footage during a morning press conference. In the clip, the officer can be heard shouting “Taser! Taser! Taser!” as she alerts fellow officers that’s she’s about to use what she believed to be her stun gun.

Brooklyn Center chief: Cop meant to use Taser on Wright
by Nina Moini | MPR News

But she drew her handgun instead of the Taser and fired a round at Wright. She calls out “s--- I just shot him” in dismay as Wright drives away before crashing.

Gannon said he believes the officer intended to use the Taser, not her handgun, and that the killing of Wright was an accident. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner later confirmed Wright died of a single gunshot wound to the chest.

“This appears to me — from what I viewed and the officer’s reaction and distress immediately after — that this was an accidental discharge,” he said.

“Our hearts are aching right now. We are in pain right now and we recognize that this couldn’t have happened at a worse time,” added Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott, noting the current trial of Derek Chauvin, the ex-Minneapolis officer charged with murder in the killing of George Floyd.

“We will get to the bottom of this,” he told reporters. “We will do all that is within our power to make sure that justice is done for Daunte Wright.”

Later Monday, the mayor said in his tweet that the City Council had voted to give his office “command authority” over the city’s Police Department.

Wright was stopped by police at around 2 p.m. Sunday as he was driving in a residential neighborhood.

Brooklyn Center police said in an earlier statement that officers discovered “an outstanding warrant” and tried to take him into custody, when he got back into his car. Gannon on Monday noted the registration tabs on the license plates were expired, although it wasn’t clear if that was the initial reason for the stop.

Footage played Monday by the chief showed officers taking Wright into custody by the car but Wright gets away from their grip and back into the driver’s seat as a struggle ensues.

The officer shot Wright, who managed to drive off but crashed into another vehicle several blocks away. He was declared dead at the scene. Elliott said the officers attempted life-saving actions on Wright after the shooting.

Gannon said the BCA would be releasing the name of the officer and other information. He described her as a “very senior officer.”

The Washington County Attorney’s Office will make the decision on whether the officer will be criminally charged. By prior agreement, charging decisions for police shootings in Hennepin County go to other counties.

Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said he hopes to review the evidence and make a decision within the next few days.

Activists called for the officer’s immediate firing, and accused Gannon of not holding officers accountable.

News of the killing led to demonstrations in the evening and overnight into Monday. An overnight curfew expired at 6 a.m., and school districts serving Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park said students will be in distance learning Monday.

The Minnesota Twins, Timberwolves and Wild sports teams canceled games scheduled for Monday.

Walz speaking after the revelations just hours before, said "it goes without saying that it's devastating and heartbreaking that we're here once again to address the death of a young Black man with an interaction with police."

Protests Sunday night at the Brooklyn Center Police Department grew tense as officers responded to being hit with what Gannon said were frozen pop cans and pieces of brick, with tear gas and hard foam marking rounds.

Civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong called Wright’s killing the latest incident of violence by police against Black people.

"We feel like we are in the midst of a war zone,” she said, “simply for standing up for human rights and our ability to breathe and to be free and to drive when we want to drive and to walk down the street when we want to walk down the street, without being treated like criminals — and without having the use of deadly force being brought against us."

In a Twitter video posted by KARE 11 reporter Chris Hrapsky, Katie Wright, Daunte’s mother, described hearing her son talk with police over the phone during the stop, and someone telling her son not to run. She also said after being disconnected, she managed to talk with Wright’s girlfriend who was a passenger in the car.

When an officer demanded the phone be shut off, Katie Wright said she called 911 to try to find out the couple’s location. The girlfriend, who has not been named, was taken to a hospital with what police called non-life-threatening injuries.

The shooting happened on the same afternoon that several community groups held a rally in St. Paul calling for justice for people killed in encounters with police. And it happened on the eve of the third week of testimony in Chauvin's trial in the killing of George Floyd while in police custody.

More National Guard, state law enforcement in the Twin Cities

Protesters began gathering at the scene shortly after the shooting, calling for justice for Daunte Wright. People later gathered outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department about 2 miles away, with some throwing projectiles at officers in riot gear in front of the building.

Police ordered the crowd to disperse and move to the other side of Humboldt Avenue, and declared an unlawful assembly before firing tear gas and flash-bang grenades to clear protesters.

Residents of apartment buildings across the street from the police station, including children, watched from windows as police deployed the crowd-dispersal munitions.

The unrest led to some vandalism and looting at the Shingle Creek Crossing shopping center and nearby stores in Brooklyn Center. There also were police scanner reports of sporadic looting and property damage in Minneapolis in the early morning hours Monday, prompting a large law enforcement response.

Speaking at a briefing early Monday in Minneapolis, Minnesota Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said more National Guard troops and state law enforcement personnel were headed into the Twin Cities and would be visible in the metro area this week, on top of personnel already in place for the ongoing Chauvin trial.

"The Minnesota National Guard had just over 500 personnel in support of the Operation Safety Net as of Monday morning,” said spokesperson Lt. Col. Scott Hawks. The Guard already had plans to increase that number as closing arguments approached in the trial, expected next week.

“Those plans are in process of being altered and expedited as we respond to the effects of the current situation in Brooklyn Center,” Hawks said.

By Monday morning, National Guard troops and law enforcement were seen stationed in front of a quiet Brooklyn Center Police Department and at the Shingle Creek Crossing shopping center.

MPR News reporter Brandt Williams and The Associated Press contributed to this report.