BROOKLYN CENTER, Minnesota – The officer who shot and killed a 20-year-old black man during a traffic stop may have intended to fire a taser, the city’s police chief said on Monday.
The department has released dramatic footage of the body-camera incident, which rocked the Minneapolis suburbs a few miles from where George Floyd was killed in a police arrest last May.
Daunte Wright was shot once and died after the traffic stopped on Sunday, Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon said. Body camera footage released at a new conference shows two other officers approaching Wright’s car and the officer who fired the shot standing behind them.
As the officer on the driver’s side of the vehicle begins to handcuff Wright, a fight ensues and Wright appears to be entering the driver’s side of the car. The third officer, who had approached Wright, is heard shouting “Taser” before shooting Wright and the car drives away.
“I believe the officer intended to deploy their taser but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet,” Gannon told reporters at the press conference.
During the press conference, anger erupted inside and outside the police department headquarters among community members watching from the lobby.
“It’s murder. It’s white supremacy. Who is going to defend our ancestors who built this earth but who are still kept apart?” said Jonathan Mason, a community activist.
In a statement, NAACP National President Derrick Johnson said Wright “should be alive today.”
“Whether it is recklessness and neglect, or blatant modern day lynching, the result is the same. Another black man has died at the hands of the police,” Johnson said.
Wright’s death comes as Minneapolis, 10 miles south, was on edge in the middle of the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, who faces murder charges for Floyd’s death.
Police responded to protests on Sunday with riot gear as protesters gathered at the Brooklyn Center, mourning Wright’s death. Video posted on twitter showed police firing gas and a chemical agent at protesters who gathered at the police department on Sunday evening.
“Now is not the right time for another black man to be killed by the police,” said Dez Odoms, 30, whose apartment is near the police station. Odoms said tear gas was fired at his apartment as he watched the protests unfold. “It’s sad. This town is crazy, man.”
Police chief says original stop was for expired recording
Gannon said officers made the initial shutdown around 2 p.m. because the car had an expired registration. When officers returned to their vehicle and searched for Wright’s information, they saw an outstanding warrant, which prompted the arrest, Gannon said.
The brief body camera video shows an officer on the driver’s side and an officer on the passenger side of Wright’s car, and it’s from the point of view of the third officer standing behind the vehicle. Shortly after approaching the vehicle, Wright exits the car and the officer on the driver’s side begins to handcuff him.
However, the officer removes the handcuffs, and the third officer walks over and grabs Wright’s arm.
Wright then appears to begin to return to the driver’s seat as the officer draws his gun. We hear him say “Taser” at least three times. After firing a shot, the car pulls away and the officer says, “Oh (curse), I just shot him.”
Gannon said officers are trained to carry their guns on the dominant side of their body and their Taser on the other side. He said that knowing this and seeing the video had led him to believe, “This was an accidental discharge which resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Wright.”
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Arrest is investigating the incident. In a statement to USA TODAY earlier Monday, Jill Oliveira, a public information official for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said the BCA was “in the very early stages of its investigation.”
Gannon said posting the body camera footage was his decision. “I felt the community needed to know what had happened, they needed to see it. I needed to be transparent.”
The officer was put on administrative leave and Gannon said it was too early to say if she would face charges.
Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott said he believed the officer should be fired.
“We cannot afford to make mistakes that will result in the death of others in our profession,” said Elliott.
“Heartbreaking and unfathomable; Wright’s mother says she spoke on the phone with her son
Elliott called Wright’s death “heartbreaking and unfathomable”.
“Let me be clear: we will get to the bottom of this. We will do everything in our power to ensure that justice is done for Daunte Wright,” he said.
Wright’s death “couldn’t come at a worse time,” Elliott added, noting Chauvin’s close trial. “We are collectively devastated and have been for over a year now because of the murder of George Floyd.”
Daunte’s mother Katie Wright told reporters her son was driving a vehicle the family gave him weeks ago and called her as he was pulled over with his girlfriend in the car, reported the New York Times.
“He called me around 1:40 am, said he was being stopped by the police,” she said in a Facebook Live video. “He said they arrested him because he had air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror.”
Gannon said the officer noted after arresting Wright for the expired recording that he also had air fresheners on his rearview mirror.
After being shot, Wright drove several more blocks before colliding with another vehicle, police said. No one in the other vehicle was injured, police said
As she spoke with her son during the traffic stop, Katie Wright said she told him to give officers the phone so she could give them insurance information, reported the New York Times.
“Then I heard the policeman come to the window and say, ‘Put the phone down and get out of the car,'” she said, according to The Times.
Wright told the Star-Tribune that she heard a fight during the call and someone was saying, “Daunte, don’t run.” The call ended and when she called back Wright’s girlfriend told her mother he had been shot, the Star-Tribune reported.
Aubrey Wright told the Washington Post that her son was driving to wash a car when he was shot.
Wright said he was at the grocery store when his wife called him to tell him their son had been shot. He told the Post he arrived at the scene within 10 minutes and saw his son’s 2011 Buick LaCrosse partially destroyed and his body on the ground covered with a sheet.
“I know my son. He was scared. He (still had) the spirit of a 17-year-old because we kept him, “Wright told the Post.
Daunte Wright also had a 2-year-old child, her father told the newspaper. He said Wright dropped out of high school due to a learning disability, but worked in various retail and restaurant jobs to support his son.
“He was a great kid,” Wright told the Post. “He was a normal child. He never had any serious problems. He enjoyed spending time with his 2 year old son. He loved his son.
In a tweet on MondayCivil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton said he spoke with Wright’s father and said his group, the National Action Network, “will stand by this family and demand justice in this case”.
Family and friends join protests at Brooklyn Center
Wright’s family and friends were among those who gathered to walk the streets near where Wright was shot on Sunday.
At the police department, a large crowd was encountered with armored policemen who formed a riot line. The demonstration there had been largely peaceful until then.
Police issued scatter orders and fired tear gas, lightning and rubber bullets at the crowd of around 500 who had gathered, the Star-Tribune reported.
John Harrington, commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, said protesters had started throwing stones and other objects. The group had mainly dispersed around 1:15 am Monday.
The National Guard was activated and remained at the police station on Monday.
The shooting comes after at least two other cases in which Brooklyn Center police have shot or arrested someone who has died later in recent years.
In 2019, an autistic man, Kobe Dimock-Heisler, 21, was fatally shot in a fight with police. KARE-TV reported that officers first tried Tase Dimock-Heisler, who grabbed a knife from the cushion of a sofa before the police shot him. No charges were laid against the officers in charge of the case.
In 2015, a man from Saint-Paul died days after being hit by a Brooklyn Center police officer and hit his head. The Star-Tribune reported that Sinthanouxay Khottavongsa, 57, was holding a crowbar and that police responding to a report of a fight told him to drop it before the Tasering. Khottavongsa hit his head while falling and died from his injuries, the newspaper reported.
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of CAIR-Minnesota, a section of the Council on US-Islamic Relations, said the video showed Wright was initially cooperating with police.
“But despite all of that, he should be alive today and he isn’t. This officer killed him, these three officers (at the scene) should be fired, the police chief should be fired, the city manager should be fired because and the fact that they didn’t even shoot (the woman who fired the fatal shot) after seeing the video yesterday is a testament to how our society continues to fail individuals in this area of policing, ”Hussein said.
In Minneapolis, photos shared on social networks showed people gathering at the site of George Floyd’s death, which has turned into a memorial, and painted “Justice for Daunte Wright” on the street.