A national expert on policing and use of force testified Wednesday at Kim Potter’s trial that the former Minnesota officer was not justified in using deadly force when she fatally shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright after a traffic stop in April.

Seth Stoughton is a former cop and associate professor of criminal law at the University of South Carolina. He studies police use of force and policing.

Stoughton agreed with the defense’s argument that the evidence he reviewed suggested Potter intended to use her Taser and not the handgun that she drew and shot Wright with. However, he concluded that Potter’s actions were inappropriate and not justified.

“The use of deadly force was not appropriate. And the evidence suggests that a reasonable officer in Officer Potter’s position could not have believed that it was proportional to the threat at the time,” said the associate professor, who completed a report analyzing the case before the trial began. “In other words, the use of [deadly] force was apparently excessive and inappropriate.”

Seth Stoughton (an associate professor of law at the University of South Carolina) testified Wednesday during the Minneapolis trial of Kim Potter, a former Brooklyn Center officer who is facing charges for the April 11th death of Daunte.
Court TV via Associated Press

When asked by the prosecution, Stoughton testified that he identified risks, which he defined as not yet “threats of great bodily harm or death,” in assessing Potter’s case, the main one being that police Sgt. Mychal Johnson was partly in Wright’s car on the passenger side for several seconds, with his hand initially upon the gear shift

“An officer who overextends themselves by putting themselves into someone’s vehicle certainly has the potential, if the vehicle begins moving, to be dragged, ejected, seriously injured, killed, run over by the vehicle or the like,” Stoughton said. “That’s always a risk. As I talked about earlier, it doesn’t become a threat until there’s ability, opportunity and intention, but it’s always a risk of reaching into a vehicle.”

The expert testified that he considered Potter’s behavior when evaluating whether the risk created by Johnson’s conduct had become an imminent threat and whether an officer in Potter’s position would have perceived it as an imminent threat.

“The conduct that is relevant is conduct immediately before and during the shooting itself, and then immediately after the shooting. So with a little bit more particularity, the conduct before the shooting is Officer Potter’s apparent decision to use the Taser,” Stoughton said, bringing up Potter’s two warnings to Wright that she would use her Taser and then three Taser warnings to officers before drawing and shooting her firearm at Wright’s chest.

That conduct was key to Stoughton’s opinion that Potter’s use of deadly force was not proportional to the situation because footage from Johnson’s body camera shows the sergeant backing out of Wright’s car when he hears Potter yelling Taser warnings. With Johnson no longer in the vehicle, there was no longer a threat of bodily harm and therefore no reason that an officer in Potter’s position would then still use deadly force on Wright, Stoughton testified at the Hennepin County Courthouse trial in Minneapolis. Brooklyn Center can be found in Minneapolis.

“Immediately after the shooting, Officer Potter indicates that that was not what she meant to do. She says something to the equivalent of, ‘Oh shit, I shot him. I drew the wrong gun,’” Stoughton said. “In the next few minutes, there are additional indications that … a reasonable officer in her position at the time would not have perceived that there was an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm ― most especially her statements about going to prison, indicative that there was a lack of justification for the use of deadly force.”

One of the most significant aspects of the defense’s argument is that Potter was justified in using deadly force against Wright because Johnson was in immediate danger of being harmed while he was partly inside Wright’s vehicle. Multiple witnesses who took the stand at the trial have testified that Potter was entitled to use lethal force to defend her colleague. Stoughton disproved that claim and explained how her actions created a more hazardous situation.

“Immediately before the time she pulled the trigger and shot, Officer [Anthony] Luckey was standing immediately to the right and extending over, sort of reaching into the open driver’s side door. Evidently, there was a passenger in that car. And until the time Officer Potter began saying, ‘Taser, Taser, Taser,’ we have that eight-second period of Sgt. Johnson is also leaning into the car with his torso. In other words, we’re talking about a number of potential targets that could be struck with a bullet in very close proximity,” Stoughton said.

“It’s pretty accepted in policing that officers actually miss their target more often than they hit, so they have to be very aware of what’s immediately around their target. It’s also well-known that bullets can over-penetrate, so officers have to be very aware of what’s immediately behind their target,” he said. “Putting together the behavior indicating Taser intent, the intention to use a Taser and the rationale that would militate against firearms … those actions are certainly not consistent with the actions of a reasonable officer who perceived an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm.”

Stoughton said Potter’s use of a Taser would also have been unjustified during the effort to arrest Wright because of the risks of incapacitating someone who could get a vehicle moving. According to the professor, Taser usage could have caused the suspect’s fleeing, and he recommended that police in that situation could have instead let Wright goBecause they had already received his information.

Stoughton had also testified in former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s trialHe stated that George Floyd (a Black man who was pinned on the street for almost nine minutes and died in May 2020) had not been a danger to him. Chauvin was convicted of murder on June 25 and this week pleaded guilty to violating Floyd’s civil rights. Chauvin’s trial was also conducted in the Hennepin County Courthouse.

Source: HuffPost.com.

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