BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. (AP) — A white police officer who fatally shot a Black man during a traffic stop in a Minneapolis suburb resigned Tuesday, as did the city’s police chief — moves that the mayor said he hoped would help heal the community and lead to reconciliation after two nights of protests and unrest.
But police and protesters faced off once again after nightfall Tuesday, with hundreds of protesters gathering again at Brooklyn Center’s heavily guarded police headquarters, now ringed by concrete barriers and a tall metal fence, and where police in riot gear and National Guard soldiers stood watch. “Murderapolis” was scrawled with black spray paint on a concrete barrier.
“Whose street? Our street!” the crowd chanted under a light snowfall.
About 90 minutes before the curfew deadline, state police announced over a loudspeaker that the gathering had been declared unlawful and ordered the crowds to disperse. That quickly set off confrontations, with protesters launching fireworks toward the station and throwing objects at police, who launched flashbangs and gas grenades, and then marched in a line to force back the crowd.
“You are hereby ordered to disperse,” authorities announced, warning that anyone not leaving would be arrested. The state police said the dispersal order came before the 10 p.m. curfew because protesters were trying to take down the fencing and throwing rocks at police. The number of protesters dropped rapidly over the next hour, until only a few remained. Police also ordered all media to leave the scene.
The resignations from Officer Kim Potter and Police Chief Tim Gannon came two days after the death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center. Potter, a 26-year veteran, had been on administrative leave following Sunday’s shooting, which happened as the Minneapolis area was already on edge over the trial of an officer charged in George Floyd’s death.
Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott said at a news conference that the city had been moving toward firing Potter when she resigned. Elliott said he hoped her resignation would “bring some calm to the community,” but that he would keep working toward “full accountability under the law.”
“We have to make sure that justice is served, justice is done. Daunte Wright deserves that. His family deserves that,” Elliott said.
A decision on whether prosecutors will charge Potter could come as soon as Wednesday. Meanwhile, the cities of Brooklyn Center, Minneapolis and St. Paul imposed 10 p.m. curfews.
Gannon has said he believed Potter mistakenly grabbed her gun when she was going for her Taser. She can be heard on her body camera video shouting “Taser! Taser!” However, protesters and Wright’s family members say there’s no excuse for the shooting and it shows how the justice system is tilted against Blacks, noting Wright was stopped for an expired car registration and ended up dead.
Activists who attended the mayor’s news conference called for sweeping changes to the Brooklyn Center Police Department and sharply criticized the acting police chief, Tony Gruenig, for not yet having a plan.
Elliott said the department has about 49 police officers, none of whom live in Brooklyn Center. He said he didn’t have information on racial diversity at hand but that “we have very few people of color in our department.”
The modest suburb just north of Minneapolis has seen its demographics shift dramatically in recent years. In 2000, more than 70% of the city was white. Today, a majority of residents are Black, Asian or Hispanic.
After stopping Wright for the expired license plates, police tried to arrest him on an outstanding warrant. The warrant was for his failure to appear in court on charges that he fled from officers and possessed a gun without a permit during an encounter with Minneapolis police in June.
Body camera footage released Monday shows Wright struggling with police when Potter shouts, “I’ll Tase you! I’ll Tase you! Taser! Taser! Taser!” She draws her weapon after the man breaks free from police outside his car and gets back behind the wheel.
After firing a single shot from her handgun, the car speeds away, and Potter says, “Holy (expletive)! I shot him.”
Wright died of a gunshot wound to the chest, according to the medical examiner.
Protests began within hours.
In her one-paragraph letter of resignation, Potter said, “I have loved every minute of being a police officer and serving this community to the best of my ability, but I believe it is in the best interest of the community, the department, and my fellow officers if I resign immediately.”
Wright’s father, Aubrey Wright, told ABC’s “Good Morning America” that he rejects the explanation that Potter mistook her gun for her Taser.
“I lost my son. He’s never coming back. I can’t accept that. A mistake? That doesn’t even sound right. This officer has been on the force for 26 years. I can’t accept that,” he said.
Chyna Whitaker, mother of Daunte’s son, said at a news conference that she felt police “stole my son’s dad from him.”
The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association said in a statement Tuesday that “no conclusions should be made until the investigation is complete.”
Prosecutors in Hennepin County, where the shooting occurred, said they have referred the case to nearby Washington County — a practice county attorneys in the Minneapolis area adopted last year in handling police deadly force cases. Washington County Attorney Pete Orput told WCCO-AM that he had received information on the case from state investigators and hoped to have a charging decision on Wednesday. Orput did not immediately respond to a message from The Associated Press.
Elliott, the mayor, called for the governor to move the case to the attorney general to prosecute.
Asked to comment, John Stiles, spokesman for the attorney general’s office, said the attorney general has confidence in Orput’s review of the case.
Ben Crump, the Wright family’s attorney, spoke outside the Minneapolis courthouse where a fired police officer is on trial in Floyd’s death. Crump compared Wright’s death to that of Floyd, who was pinned down by police when they tried to arrest him for allegedly passing a counterfeit $20 at a neighborhood market last May.
Daunte Wright “was not a threat to them,” Crump said. “Was it the best decision? No. But young people don’t always make the best decisions. As his mother said, he was scared.”
Potter has experience with investigations into police shootings. She was the police union president and one of the first officers to respond after Brooklyn Center police fatally shot a man who allegedly tried to stab an officer with a knife in 2019, according to a report from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.
After medics arrived, she told the two officers who shot the man to get into separate squad cars, turn off their body cameras, and not to speak to each other. She accompanied two other officers involved in the shooting while investigators interviewed them.