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Chief: Officer meant to use Taser, not firearm, on Daunte Wright

UPDATED: Mon., April 12, 2021

Liz Navratil and Andy Mannix Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — The police officer who fatally shot a man during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center on Sunday appeared to do so accidentally, intending to fire her Taser, not her gun, Police Chief Tim Gannon said Monday.

Gannon made the assertion as the department released a body camera video that appeared to show the officer shouting, “Taser! Taser!” before she fired her gun, hitting Daunte Wright, 20.

“It is my belief that the officer had their intention to deploy the Taser but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet,” the chief said during a packed news conference. “This appears to me, from what I viewed, and the officer’s reaction and distress immediately after, that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in a tragic death of Mr. Wright.”

The video shows three officers approaching a white sedan that is parked on the shoulder of a road. One officer approaches the driver’s side window, while another approaches the passenger side. The officer on the driver’s side opens the door and a man, later identified as Wright, gets out of the car. Wright’s hands are then shown behind his back, and an officer pulls out handcuffs.

Someone says, “You have a warrant.”

A third officer, a woman, approaches the car. Wright gets back inside the car. The video briefly shows officers moving near the car door, as Wright moves in the driver’s seat.

The female officer shouts “Taser! Taser!”

The car drives forward. The officer says, “Holy shit, I just shot him.”

Off-screen from the video, police said the car crashed into another vehicle, and Wright died.

“I’m not in the mind of the officer,” Gannon said during the news conference. “I can only see what you’re seeing. I can couple that with much of the training that I have received and that’s why I m believing it to be an accidental discharge.”

The killing of Wright inflamed outrage that was already heightened by the continuing trial in Minneapolis of Derek Chauvin, an ex-officer charged in the killing of George Floyd.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman’s office announced via a news release Monday afternoon that it has referred the case of Wright’s death to the Washington County Attorney. That follows an agreement urban counties made roughly a year ago to have other counties, or the state attorney general’s office, handle charging decisions in officer-involved shootings, in hopes of avoiding the appearance of a conflict of interest.

“Further decisions on this case, upon completion of the investigation being under taken by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), will be made by the Washington County Attorney’s office,” Freeman’s office said.

At the news conference, Gannon said officers train to announce the use of a Taser, both to alert their partners and the people who might be subject to it. The chief said officers are trained to place their gun on one side and their Taser on the another, with the exact side depending on which one is dominant.

“During this encounter, however, the officer drew their handgun, instead of the Taser,” the chief said.

Local officials did not release the officer’s name, saying that information would soon be released by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is leading the investigation. Gannon described her as a “very senior officer.”

Mayor Mike Elliott said he would “fully support releasing the officer of her duties.”

The officer shot Wright about 2 p.m. Sunday, in the area of 63rd Avenue and Orchard Avenue North. Gannon said he was told in a briefing that “there was an expired tag on the vehicle.”

When an officer approached, Gannon said he saw something hanging in the rearview mirror. Gannon said the officer ran Wright’s name through their system and “found out he has a warrant.”

“I have very little information on the warrant, other than it was a gross misdemeanor warrant,” the chief said.

The chief said “there was no gun (in the car) that I am aware of.”

Gannon said the officer is on administrative duty and will not return to work while the investigation is pending. He disputed social media posts that she had committed suicide, saying, “To the best of my knowledge, she is being taken care of right now.”

Elliott said officers at the scene “did respond with an attempt at saving the young man’s life. However, the young man died at the scene.”

“We recognize that this couldn’t have happened at a worst time,” Elliott said. “We recognize that this is happening at a time when our community, all of America, indeed all of the world is watching our community.”

“We are all collectively devastated and we have been for over a year now, by the killing of George Floyd, and we continue to be stressed as we go through the Derek Chauvin trial,” Elliott said. “So, having a police-involved shooting happening in our community and killing a young man is heartbreaking and just unfathomable.”

The Brooklyn Center Police Department had invited media to its station early Monday to watch the body-camera video and provide police officials to answer questions. But the police department did not allow many local news reporters into the event, including for the Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio and Minnesota Reformer.

When a reporter asked for an explanation, an employee for the police department, who refused to give his name, said they were at capacity, then closed blinds to the counter window and would not explain more.

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©2021 StarTribune. Visit at startribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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