Cop mistook handgun for taser in fatal US shooting of Black man, say police

Joy Powell with Chris Lefkow in Washington

Posted at Apr 13 2021 05:50 AM

A demonstrator jumps off a police cruiser during a protest after police allegedly shot and killed a man, who local media report is identified by the victim's mother as Daunte Wright, in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, U.S., April 11, 2021. Nick Pfosi, Reuters

The policewoman who fatally shot a 20-year-old Black man in a Minneapolis suburb accidentally confused her handgun with her taser, police said Monday, fueling tensions in this city already on edge because of the George Floyd murder trial.

"The officer drew their handgun instead of their taser," Brooklyn Center police chief Tim Gannon said at a press conference about Sunday's shooting of Daunte Wright.

Gannon said it was his belief that the officer, who has been placed on leave pending an investigation, "had the intention to deploy their taser but instead shot Mr Wright with a single bullet."

"This was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr Wright," Gannon said. "There is nothing I can say to lessen the pain of Mr Wright's family."

Gannon showed reporters police body camera video of the shooting, which sparked protests overnight in Brooklyn Center and looting of a shopping mall.

In the video, police officers are seen pulling Wright out of his car after stopping him for a traffic violation and discovering he had an outstanding warrant.

As Wright scuffles with the officers and gets back into the driver's seat of the car, a female police officer shouts "I'll tase you" and then "taser, taser, taser."

"Holy shit, I shot him," the officer says as Wright, fatally wounded, drives away.

The protests overnight prompted the defense attorney for former officer Derek Chauvin, who is facing murder and manslaughter charges for George Floyd's death, to ask the judge presiding over the high-profile case to sequester the jury.

Eric Nelson, Chauvin's lawyer, said he was concerned that the protests over Wright's death could influence the jurors.

"A verdict in this case is going to have consequences," Nelson said. "Will the jury be confident to make a decision regardless of the potential outcome of their decision?"

Prosecutors opposed the request to sequester the jury and so did the judge.

"This is a totally different case," Judge Peter Cahill said. 

"I'm not going to sequester them. We'll sequester them on Monday when I anticipate doing closing," he said, referring to closing arguments.

- 'Incredibly saddened' -
Chauvin is facing murder and manslaughter charges for his role in Floyd's death on May 25, 2020, which occurred during his arrest for allegedly passing a fake $20 bill.

The 45-year-old Chauvin, who is white, was seen in a video taken by a bystander kneeling on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes as the handcuffed 46-year-old Black man complained repeatedly that he could not breathe.

The video touched off protests against racial injustice and police brutality in the United States and around the world.

Brooklyn Center, where Wright was shot, is a northwest suburb of Minneapolis located not far from the heavily guarded Hennepin County Government Center where Chauvin is on trial.

Police fired tear gas and flash bangs to disperse a crowd of hundreds of people who gathered outside a police station in Brooklyn Center after Wright was shot.

National Guard troops were deployed and Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott imposed an overnight curfew.

The Minnesota Twins announced they were postponing their game on Monday against the Boston Red Sox "out of respect for the tragic events that occurred yesterday in Brooklyn Center."

In a statement, the Major League Baseball team expressed "sympathies to the family of Daunte Wright."

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the Biden administration was "incredibly saddened to hear about the loss of life at the hands of law enforcement."

"It is a reminder of the pain, the anger, the trauma, the exhaustion that many communities across the country have felt," Psaki said.

John Harrington, Minnesota's commissioner of public safety, said about 20 businesses were looted at a local mall and additional National Guard troops would be deployed on Monday.

Tensions in Minneapolis are already high over the Chauvin trial.

Prosecutors are seeking to prove that Floyd's death was due to asphyxiation by the police officers conducting the arrest and have called several medical experts to bolster their case.

Chauvin's attorney claims Floyd's death was due to his consumption of the illegal drugs fentanyl and methamphetamine and underlying health conditions.

Prosecutors called a prominent cardiologist, Jonathan Rich, to testify on Monday. 

Rich said Floyd's death was caused by "low oxygen levels" that were "induced by the prone restraint and positional asphyxiation that he was subjected to."

"I see no evidence at all that a fentanyl overdose caused Mr Floyd's death," Rich said.

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