Tuesday, June 15, 2021

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Minnesota officer who shot Daunte Wright apparently meant to use Taser but fired gun, police chief says


BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. - The suburban Minneapolis police officer who fatally shot a 20-year-old unarmed Black man during a traffic stop Sunday apparently meant to fire a stun gun but instead made an "accidental discharge" from her gun, her police chief said Monday.

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Less than 24 hours after an officer with the Brooklyn Center Police Department shot and killed Daunte Wright, Police Chief Tim Gannon played an unedited clip of police body-camera video showing the fatal incident for the media and members of the community at a City Hall news conference.

The video shows two male officers approach Wright's car - one on the driver's side, the other on the passenger side. A third officer approaches later as the two attempt to handcuff Wright, who is now standing outside the vehicle. As Wright struggles away from the two men, the third officer is heard threatening to stun Wright with a Taser.

In the chaotic seven seconds that follow, the female officer, who already has a weapon drawn, is heard yelling, "I'll Tase you!" and "Taser, Taser, Taser!" before firing.

Immediately after she is heard saying, "Holy s---, I shot him," apparently realizing that she had fired her service weapon instead of her stun gun.

Gannon described it as an "accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Wright."

Gannon declined to identify the officer, but described her as a veteran of the department and said she was immediately placed on leave while the shooting was investigated.

Meanwhile, several dozen gathered in the rain outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department as police and National Guard troops stood watch.

Chioma Nnadi, a 42-year-old business owner said she had been following previous police shootings on TV, but this one was different because it was her own city.

"This could be my son. This could be my brother," she said. "How would you feel if Daunte was your own brother, your own husband, your own son?

Nnadi felt her heart breaking. "I am a mother, and I feel for the mother of Daunte," she said. "I am not feeling good about it at all. I sat my son down and sat my husband down and said, 'Please be careful.' "

The suburban Minneapolis community was on edge Monday after a day of grief-filled protests that gave way to late-night clashes with heavily armed law enforcement and break-ins at several local businesses overnight.

News of Wright's death prompted fresh outcry over police use of force in the Minneapolis area from weary residents. Ten miles away, the high-profile murder trial of formal Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was underway for the 2020 killing of George Floyd.

Wright is at least the 262nd person shot and killed by police this year, according to a Washington Post database tracking such shootings. The swift cascade of reactions to his death indicates how accustomed the United States - and the Twin Cities area in particular - have grown to responding to such incidents.

By noon Monday, President Joe Biden had phoned Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott to express his support; the Minnesota Twins Major League Baseball team and the National Basketball Association's Minnesota Timberwolves announced that they would postpone Monday's games; and the mayors of Minneapolis and St. Paul each announced evening curfews.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, expressed his sympathies to Wright's family during an afternoon news conference and said it was important to acknowledge that "we don't have to continue having these press conferences, and having what may be a routine traffic stop and a 20-year-old dead, a family devastated and a community on edge."

He pledged to demand that the state legislature hold hearings on police policies he said have passed in other states with the support of law enforcement and community groups.

"We can stop pretending that this is just the natural order of the universe and that things happen this way," Walz added.

Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations whose group works on civil rights issues in the area beyond the Muslim community, said a familiar pattern is playing out once again in the area.

"Nothing has fundamentally changed since the killing of George Floyd. Nothing," Hussein said. "Police officers can still do whatever they've been doing without any measure of accountability."

Wright is the latest person in the United States to be shot by a police officer who said he or she meant to pull their stun gun but inadvertently drew and shot a firearm instead, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

The chief said police stopped Wright just before 2 p.m. Sunday in a largely residential part of Brooklyn Center for having expired registration tags. At Monday's news conference, an angry audience member noted that the state's Department of Motor Vehicles was experiencing a two- to three-month backlog because of the coronavirus pandemic. The chief said that after running Wright's identification, it was discovered that he had an outstanding warrant for a misdemeanor, and police tried to arrest him.

When Wright appeared to try to get back into his car, the officer fired a single shot. Wright drove for several blocks before striking another vehicle, and he was pronounced dead at the scene, police said. A female passenger in the car with Wright was injured and was taken to the hospital.

Outside City Hall on Monday, several community members gathered in search of answers and to show solidarity.

Jarvis Naylor, a 37-year-old landscaper who rents properties in North Minneapolis, said he always comes out to protest when Black men are killed by police.

"It is something that I must do. It's something I always do," Naylor said. "I try to be a part of the ones that are peaceful, so then you can really get the message out. With George Floyd I was part of the cleanup."

Originally from Illinois, he said he has come to learn what it's really like in Minnesota. "I just feel like it's open season against Black men and there's no consequence," he said.

Wright's family members said he had spoken to them by phone just moments before he was shot.

Aubrey Wright, 42, said his son had recently asked his mother for $50 for a carwash, and was headed there when he was stopped. They had recently bought him the car, his father told The Post. Wright's family said he told them that he was pulled over for having an air freshener dangling from his mirror, allegedly blocking his view.

Daunte Wright's mother, Katie Wright, told the Star-Tribune that her son had called her after being pulled over and that she heard a commotion and someone yelling "Daunte, don't run" before the line disconnected. Moments later, she said, her son's girlfriend, who was in the car, called back and said he'd been shot.

Aubrey Wright, who was at a grocery store, said his wife called him about 2 p.m. with the news. "She was screaming over the phone. She was saying, 'Daunte was shot!' " he said.

When Aubrey Wright arrived at the scene less than 10 minutes later, he said, he saw his son's 2011 Buick LaCrosse partially destroyed and his son's body covered with a white sheet on the sidewalk.

After news of the shooting circulated through the community, several young residents went to the Brooklyn Center Police Department to gather in protest said Hussein of civil rights group CAIR-MN.

"We tried to keep folks safe. It was peaceful, they were standing in the street and kind of protesting and all of a sudden we saw about eight vans come in with what looked like riot gear police," Hussein said.

As protesters lingered on the scene, police gave orders to disperse and fired flash bangs and tear gas. The Minnesota National Guard, which is deployed to the Twin Cities for the Chauvin trial, later arrived to assist police as numerous businesses in the area were broken into.

Aubrey Wright questioned whether police had to use lethal force.

"I know my son. He was scared. He still [had] the mind of a 17-year-old because we babied him," Wright said. "If he was resisting an arrest, you could Tase him. I don't understand it."

Daunte Wright, who had a 2-year-old son, dropped out of high school about two years ago because of a learning disability, his father said. Since then, he worked in retail and fast food restaurants to support his son. He planned to go back to school to get his GED.

"He was a great kid," Aubrey Wright said. "He was a normal kid. He was never in serious trouble. He enjoyed spending time with his 2-year-old son. He loved his son."

Published : April 13, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Kim Bellware, Andrea Salcedo, Sheila Regan