Wright family questions lack of murder charges; officer makes 1st court appearance

People sit at a memorial site surrounded by flowers.
Members of Daunte Wright's family visit a memorial site near where he was killed on Wednesday in Brooklyn Center, Minn. Former officer Kim Potter has been charged with second-degree manslaughter after she shot and killed Wright, 20, during a traffic stop Sunday.
Stephen Maturen | Getty Images

Updated: 3:35 p.m.

The family of Daunte Wright and their attorneys said Thursday they welcomed the criminal charge against the former police officer who fired the shot that killed him Sunday, but some questioned why she wasn’t charged with murder.

“The last few days everybody has asked me what we want, and the answer is justice. But there’s never going to be justice for us,” said Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, adding that justice would be that her son was still alive. “Justice isn’t even a word for me.”

Instead, Wright’s family said they wanted accountability at the highest level.

A woman in an orange shirt for a mugshot.
Former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter.
Courtesy of Hennepin County

Former officer Kim Potter, 48, made an initial appearance in court Thursday afternoon. The former police chief said that Potter had intended to stun the man with her Taser gun instead of firing her gun.

Attorney Ben Crump cited the case of then-Minneapolis officer Mohamed Noor, a Black man, who was charged and convicted in 2019 of third-degree murder for killing Justine Ruszczyk, a white woman, while Potter, who is white, was not charged with murder for killing Wright, a Black man.

Crump and other lawyers said more serious charges can be filed against Potter at any time based on the investigation and suggested murder charges should be added.

Crump said it’s very difficult for the Wright family to accept that Daunte Wright's death was an accident.

“We believe it was over policing,” Crump said. “An excessive use of force.”

Still, Crump credited protesters in Minneapolis with the fact that there are any criminal charges in the case at all, given that so many other police officers responsible for the deaths of other Black people never faced charges.

“We believe that we are starting to see a change in America,” Crump said. “They didn’t get a charge and an arrest, but Daunte Wright did get a charge and arrest of the officer that killed him. We are making progress.”

Daunte’s father Arbuey Wright spoke for his son.

“And the way he was killed, he did not deserve that,” Arbuey Wright said. “What’s going on isn’t fair, these young black men being killed. Can you blame my son or anyone else for being scared of the police?”

A 4th night of protests in Brooklyn Center

In a video of the incident, Potter yells “Taser” several times, before shooting Wright once with her handgun. She calls out “s--- I just shot him” as Wright drives away before crashing.

Washington County prosecutors say the Taser was holstered on her left side, the gun on her right. The complaint goes on to say that the way the 26-year veteran wore her Taser, she would have to draw it with her left hand. The gun was in her right hand.

Naisha Wright, Daunte Wright’s aunt, became emotional during a Thursday news conference with Crump and family members.

“Can we get a conviction? Can we get something? Manslaughter?” she said. “You all see the difference,” she said, holding up photos of a Taser and a gun. “This is a Taser. But no, my nephew was killed with this, a Glock.”

On Wednesday, the Wright family held a vigil at the site where Daunte Wright was killed. A pastor said prayers, and the family and others gathered and chanted his name.

Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott also came to pay his respects, hugging Wright’s parents and other family members and standing with them.

Earlier in the afternoon, Elliott talked about how difficult the week has been.

“This truly been a tragic and difficult week for the people of Brooklyn Center. My heart is broken for Daunte, his family and friends. He was taken from us and from them far too soon,” Elliott said. “I share our community's anger and sadness and shock.”

He also asked for peace. 

“We know that there are a large number of people who are there to protest peacefully and to express a grievance,” he said. “We know that there are agitators that show up, looking to stir things up and to confront and engage law enforcement in ways that the vast number of vast majority people who are coming to the protests are not intending to do.”

Elliott said that while he understands there’s a need to keep the peace and a need to protect the safety of the community, he also criticized the heavy hand in policing seen over the last several nights.

“We have to approach policing in a different way, in a more human way,” he said. “Gassing, in my opinion, is not a humane way of policing.”

Protests continued for a fourth day Wednesday after charges were announced.

Law enforcement used tear gas and marking rounds, but did not use other chemical irritants to the extent they did at previous protests at the Brooklyn Center Police Department.

The protest was mostly peaceful but boisterous, with a handful pushing up against the fence around the department, occasionally throwing things. Most demonstrators stood farther back, chanting, waving flags, listening to music and talking.

In a midnight press conference, State Patrol Chief Col. Matt Langer said there were fewer arrests than Tuesday night.

Correction (April 23, 2021): Arbuey Wright’s name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story. The story has been updated.

Your support matters.

You make MPR News possible. Individual donations are behind the clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives. Help ensure MPR remains a resource that brings Minnesotans together.