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Kim Potter trial: the ex-officer is expected to take the stand in her own defense

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Former police officer Kimberly Potter is expected to testify today in her manslaughter trial. Potter, who is white, killed a Black motorist during a traffic stop last spring in Minneapolis. Her defense team says she mistakenly shot Daunte Wright with her gun when she really meant to use her Taser. Potter's lawyers also argue that the shooting was justified to protect another officer. Matt Sepic of Minnesota Public Radio reports.

MATT SEPIC, BYLINE: Over the last week, prosecutors argued that Kimberly Potter was reckless and negligent and had no reason to use force when she shot Daunte Wright. Potter and another officer pulled over the 20-year-old in Brooklyn Center, Minn., last spring for several minor traffic violations, including expired license plates. They then learned there was a warrant for Wright's arrest for failing to appear in court on a firearms charge. As Potter's partner tried to handcuff Wright, he slipped back into his car. Potter's body camera captured what happened next. She threatened to tase Wright, but in her hand was a 9 mm Glock, not her stun gun.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KIMBERLY POTTER: I'll tase you - Taser, Taser, Taser.

SEPIC: Seth Stoughton, a use of force expert the government hired, said Potter had no justifiable reason to use even a Taser on Wright, let alone a gun. Wright only threatened to escape, not to hurt anyone. And Stoughton said officers could have arrested him later.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SETH STOUGHTON: The available evidence leads me to conclude that a reasonable officer in Officer Potter's position would not have concluded that there was an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm and, thus, that the use of deadly force was excessive.

SEPIC: The prosecutors also presented what's known in Minnesota as spark of life testimony. Wright's father, Aubrey Wright, took the stand and recalled the joy his son felt when his baby was born.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AUBREY WRIGHT: I was so happy for him 'cause he was so happy. He was so happy about Junior. And it was my chance to be a grandfather.

SEPIC: After prosecutors rested their case yesterday, the defense brought in its own use of force expert. Steve Ijames said that Wright had to be stopped. Ijames said because Wright had an active warrant for an alleged firearms offense, officers had reason to believe he could be armed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVE IJAMES: Just getting in the vehicle is significant. But officers would be aware of that weapons component and the concern, could there be a gun in the car? Could there be a gun on him? This isn't just about, might this person drive away?

SEPIC: Ijames said Potter's use of force was justified for another reason. A third officer, Michael Johnson, was in danger because he was leaning inside Wright's passenger door. Under questioning earlier by defense attorney Earl Gray, Johnson said he tried to grab Wright's gearshift in an effort to stop the car.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EARL GRAY: With you in that car halfway, what would have happened to you? What would you think would be the worst that would happen?

MICHAEL JOHNSON: Probably dragged.

GRAY: Dragged and what?

JOHNSON: Injured.

GRAY: Seriously injured and maybe even dead, right?

JOHNSON: Yes.

SEPIC: Another defense expert is expected to testify about a phenomenon known to psychologists as slip-and-capture errors, when a person performs one action while intending to do something else. Kimberly Potter is also expected to take the stand to explain how she mixed up her gun and Taser in the seconds before killing Daunte Wright.

For NPR News, I'm Matt Sepic in Minneapolis.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEIL COWLEY AND BEN LUKAS BOYSEN'S "A GRAIN OF TRUTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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