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The trial begins for ex-officer Kim Potter, who fatally shot Daunte Wright


Jurors in Minnesota are hearing testimony in the manslaughter trial of Kimberly Potter. She is a former police officer who killed a man during a traffic stop. She is white. He was Black. Some parts of this report are upsetting. Here's Matt Sepic of Minnesota Public Radio.

MATT SEPIC, BYLINE: Neither side disputes the fact that Kimberly Potter shot Daunte Wright. At issue is what she was thinking when she fired the fatal shot. On April 11, Potter was patrolling the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center with Anthony Luckey, a new officer she was training. Luckey, who grew up nearby, spotted a Buick in a left turn lane with its right turn signal on. He testified this week that he found the car suspicious.


ANTHONY LUCKEY: That area is known for a lot of shootings. For me, it was the behavior of the vehicle.

SEPIC: Luckey said he ran the plates and found that the Buick's registration had expired. The officer also noticed an air freshener dangling from the rearview mirror, a minor violation here. After he stopped the car, Luckey learned that the driver, 20-year-old Daunte Wright, didn't have a driver's license but did have a warrant for failing to appear in court on a firearms charge. Luckey said that he was required to arrest Wright on that warrant, but when he tried, Wright broke free from his grip and got back into the driver's seat. Prosecutors played body camera video of what happened next. Potter's heard threatening to tase Wright, but instead she draws her 9mm handgun and fires a single round into his chest.


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


POTTER: I just shot him.

LUCKEY: (Unintelligible).

POTTER: Yes. I grabbed the wrong [expletive] gun. [Expletive]. I shot him. Oh, my God.

SEPIC: The wounded Wright drives away and crashes into an oncoming vehicle, injuring an elderly man. In her opening statement, prosecutor Erin Eldridge said Potter had extensive training in both Tasers and handguns over 26 years as an officer and should have known the difference between the two.


ERIN ELDRIDGE: When you're entrusted with a deadly weapon as part of your job, there's no do-over when you take a young man's life.

SEPIC: Eldridge argued that Potter was reckless and negligent in her actions, key elements of the manslaughter charges she's facing. Kimberly Potter's defense attorney, Paul Engh, told the jury that the shooting was an accident, but at the same time, Engh said Wright endangered the life of a third officer, Sergeant Mychal Johnson. Engh says Johnson was reaching into the car, trying to grab the Buick's gearshift to stop Wright from fleeing.


PAUL ENGH: If she does nothing, Mr. Wright drives away and either substantially harms Sergeant Johnson or likely he kills him.

SEPIC: Sergeant Johnson is expected to testify later. Jurors also heard Wright's mother recount the final time she spoke with her son, when he called to ask about car insurance during the traffic stop. And yesterday, Wright's girlfriend, Alayna Albrecht-Payton, recalled what happened moments later, when Potter fired her gun and Wright crashed the car.


ALAYNA ALBRECHT-PAYTON: And I was trying to push on his chest and call his name, and he wasn't answering me.

SEPIC: After prosecutors wrap up, Potter's defense attorneys will likely call expert witnesses who will try to explain how an officer with so much experience made a mistake with her weapons. The jury will also likely hear from Kimberly Potter herself, who is expected to testify about what she thought and felt in the seconds before she reached for her gun instead of her Taser.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF THRUPENCE'S "REVERENCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Matt Sepic