This week, the criminal trial against former Minneapolis police officer Kimberly Potter begins. She's being tried for the shooting death of Daunte Wright last April.
Wright’s death was tragic, and anger about the police error that led to his death is understandable. But the criminal charges against Potter — first- and second-degree manslaughter — don't fit.
On April 11, Daunte Wright was pulled over by police in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota bfor an expired registration sticker on his vehicle. When the officers ran Wright’s name through their database, they learned of an open arrest warrant. Based on that information, officers directed Wright to exit his car.
He complied, and officers attempted to place him under arrest.
What happened next was captured on police body camera footage:
As the officers were trying to handcuff him, Wright struggled, broke free, and jumped back into his car in an effort to elude capture.
One of the on-scene officers, Kimberly Potter, drew what she thought was her stun gun —but which was really her 9 mm Glock service weapon — shouting at Wright, "I’ll Tase you, I’ll Tase you!"
When Wright still failed to yield, Potter yelled, this time exclaiming, "Taser! Taser! Taser!" firing a single shot at fired a single shot at Daunte Wright.
After being shot, Wright drove off and struck another vehicle about 500 feet away.
He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Subsequently, Potter was charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter.
Both of these charges require that the state prove that Potter knowingly created an unreasonable risk of harm to Wright, and then, with awareness of that risk, disregarded it.
Given the video evidence, it's improbable that the prosecution can make that showing.
But the state faces another challenge. It also must establish that it was "unreasonable" under the circumstances for Potter to have drawn a gun.
This it also can’t do based on U.S. Supreme Court precedent.
In the case of Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194 (2004) the high court considered whether a police officer acted unreasonably when she shot a burglary suspect in the back after he entered his car and engaged the engine in an effort to flee.
Following Brosseau, a decade later, in Plumhoff v. Rickard, 572 U.S. 765 (2014), the Supreme Court again considered whether it was reasonable for police officers to shoot a suspect 15 times who was behind the wheel and trying to elude capture.
And then, in another case, in Mullenix v. Luna, 577 U.S. ___ (2015), the high court again considered whether the police use of deadly force in connection with a dangerous car chase was unreasonable.
In each of these cases, the Court affirmed that because vehicular flight — and more to the point, attempted vehicular flight — by a criminal suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm to others, it is not unreasonable for police officers to prevent the escape by the use of lethal force.
After all, one need only look at the massacre in Waukesha, Wisconsin to understand that vehicles are deadly weapons themselves.
In the matter of Daunte Wright's shooting death, the relevant issue is not whether Potter was careless in mistaking her gun for her Taser, but whether it was objectively reasonable for an officer, under the circumstances, to have used deadly force.
The Supreme Court cases above suggest that it was.
Wright had an open warrant for failing to appear at a hearing in a case for gun possession and for fleeing from the police. Further, he had a separate open gunpoint robbery case and had violated the terms of his bail on that case by possessing a firearm.
And, as Wright was being placed under arrest, he wrested himself from the grasp of the police officers and leapt into his car to drive away. There was a passenger in his vehicle and other cars on the road in close proximity to where the stop took place.
Given the facts confronting the officers at the scene, Wright posed a safety risk to innocent bystanders, the officers on the scene, and other motorists, thereby justifying the use of lethal force against him.
The death of Daunte Wright was tragic.
But the solution was not to bring an unsustainable criminal case.
If Potter is acquitted — or if her conviction is later overturned on appeal — those who were led to believe she would be held criminally accountable will blame the result on "systemic racism" and "white privilege."
Need proof? Just look at Rittenhouse.
Meanwhile, those who thought that Potter should not have been criminally charged in the first place will decry the fact that she was put through hell for no reason other than to satisfy an anti-cop bloodlust.
They will say that our criminal justice system has been weaponized by the left to target its ideological opponents — and they’ll be right.
Either way, it’s a lose-lose. However the trial turns out, it will exacerbate racial divisions, inflame anti-police sentiment, and erode trust in the rule of law.
And that will become the second casualty of this sad event.
Ameer Benno is an experienced civil rights and constitutional law attorney. He is the founder and principal of Benno & Associates P.C., an appellate and civil rights law firm in New York City. A graduate of the Johns Hopkins University and Cornell Law School, Ameer is a former Manhattan prosecutor and congressional candidate. He is a contributor and legal analyst for Newsmax Television. Read More — Here.
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