In the opening statements of former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter’s trial, the defense and prosecution signaled that their arguments will largely focus on a debate over whether the situation surrounding Daunte Wright’s death called for use of a Taser.

Potter, who is on trial for manslaughter, claims she mistook her gun for her Taser when she fatally shot Wright in April. The prosecution made the case Wednesday that the traffic stop that led to the shooting did not call for Potter to draw any weapon, including a nonlethal Taser, while the defense aims to demonstrate that use of a Taser was justified. They disagree on one major point: whether the car Wright was driving was moving at the time of the shooting.


Erin Eldridge, a prosecutor from the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, said her team plans to bring in an expert witness who will tell the jury “that it was objectively unreasonable for the defendant to use her firearm, and he'll tell you that even the use of the Taser would have been unwise under these circumstances.”

She said that among the state’s arguments against use of any weapon was that Wright's car was moving when Potter drew her gun, which violates the police training on Taser handling she had received just one month before the incident.

“Appropriate use should result in fewer serious injuries to both officers and suspects,” Eldridge said. “You will see that mere flight from a pursuing officer is not good cause for the use of a Taser. And you will also learn that Brooklyn Center policy says that the use of a Taser should be avoided where collateral injury might result ... and that includes on individuals who are operating vehicles.”

Potter’s defense attorney Paul Engh told the jury in his opening statement that his team will make the case that Taser use was justified because the car was not moving and Wright was not in control of the car, calling this the “central claim and factual dispute” that the jury will have to decide.

He pointed out that another officer was halfway in the car holding the gearshift so that Wright couldn’t flee, and because of this, Potter was attempting to keep a fellow officer safe by drawing what she thought was a Taser, as well as avoid a pursuit that could have put others on the road at risk.

“He's about to drive away with a police officer dangling from his car,” Engh said of Wright, later adding, “All Mr. Wright had to do was surrender. But that wasn’t his plan. He continued on with his struggle.”

Engh said that the weapons mix-up can be attributed to "action error," the same psychological phenomenon that causes people to write the wrong date after the new year. The defense will call an expert witness to testify about it later on.

Following opening arguments, the prosecution called Wright’s mother, Katie Bryant, and officer Anthony Lucky as witnesses. Bryant gave tearful testimony about her son’s last day.

Potter is pleading not guilty to first- and second-degree manslaughter charges in the killing of Wright, a 20-year-old black man, in the Twin Cities suburb of Brooklyn Center. The incident occurred less than a year after George Floyd was killed by police in nearby Minneapolis, and the trial is taking place in the same courtroom where former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was tried and convicted of murder in that case.


Both the prosecution and defense agree that while it is certain Potter is responsible for fatally shooting Wright, she had no intent to kill him. The prosecution alleges that Potter was reckless.

Potter and her partner pulled Wright over as part of a routine traffic stop for having an air freshener hanging from his mirror but started to arrest him when they realized there was an active warrant for his arrest on a gun misdemeanor charge.

The shooting was recorded by the body camera on Potter, who resigned from the force two days later. Wright attempted to flee by wrestling out of the officer’s grip and driving the car away. Between Wright escaping the officer’s grip and starting his car, Potter shot him with her gun. He managed to drive the car erratically down the road before crashing into another vehicle and was pronounced dead at the scene.