MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) -The suburban Minneapolis police officer who fatally shot a Black motorist during an encounter that began as a routine traffic stop, and the police chief who called the slaying an apparent accident, both resigned on Tuesday following two nights of civil unrest.
The mayor of Brooklyn Center, a town adjacent to Minnesota’s largest city, said the two tendered their resignations a day after the chief told a news briefing that the officer who shot Daunte Wright, 20, on Sunday appeared to have drawn her gun rather than her Taser by mistake.
Mayor Mike Elliott also told reporters the City Council had passed a resolution calling for the dismissal of both the chief, Tim Gannon, and the officer in question, Kim Potter, a 26-year veteran of the police force.
“I’m hoping this will bring some calm to the community,” Elliott said, adding he had yet to accept Potter’s resignation, leaving open the door to firing her. “We want to send a message to the community that we are taking this situation seriously.”
Terminating Potter’s employment, rather than allowing her to resign, could adversely affect her pension and ability to find work in law enforcement elsewhere.
The move followed two nights of protests and clashes between demonstrators and police in Brooklyn Center, a region already on edge over the ongoing trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis policeman charged with murdering George Floyd last May.
Floyd, 46, who died in handcuffs with his neck pinned to the street under Chauvin’s knee, became the face of a national movement against racial injustice and police violence as protests against his killing swept the United States last summer in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
As the mayor spoke on Tuesday, relatives of Wright and their lawyer, who is also representing Floyd’s family, assembled near the Minneapolis courthouse where Chauvin is standing trial, and recounted for reporters the anguish of Wright’s loss.
A young father who struggled with a learning disability and dropped out of high school a few years ago, Wright was remembered as a good-natured, loving individual who worked multiple jobs to support his 2-year-old son.
In a sign of the commonality of experience confronting so many African Americans, Wright’s family was joined at the news conference by Floyd’s girlfriend, Courteney Ross, who embraced Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, and mentioned she had known Daunte Wright for years, having once been his teacher.
Wright’s ill-fated encounter with law enforcement began when he was pulled over for what police said was an expired auto registration.
According to Gannon, officers then discovered an outstanding warrant for his arrest, and when Wright broke away from one officer and climbed back into his car, the second officer, since identified as Potter, accidentally drew her pistol instead of her Taser and opened fire.
An autopsy found Wright was struck once in the chest. Potter can be heard on police video that captured the confrontation shouting: “Holy shit, I just shot him.”
MOTHER: ‘MY SON WAS UNRESPONSIVE’
The recollections of Wright’s mother and other relatives outside the Minneapolis courthouse focused on his last moments from their perspective.
Katie Wright recounted that her son called her after he was pulled over and said he was being stopped because he had air fresheners hanging from the rearview mirror, which is illegal in the state.
After offering to mediate with police over the phone, the mother said she heard an officer instructing her son, who sounded confused, to get out of his vehicle, followed by scuffling sounds and an officer telling her son to hang up the phone. She said she kept calling him back, to no avail.
She said Wright’s girlfriend, who was in the car at the time, eventually picked up the phone and, amid cries and screams, told her Daunte had been shot. “She pointed the phone toward the driver’s seat and my son was laying there, unresponsive,” the mother recalled, weeping. “That was the last time that I’ve seen my son.”
Wright was killed just 10 miles (16 km) from where Floyd lost his life while under arrest for allegedly passing a bogus $20 bill.
The mayor said he asked Governor Tim Walz to reassign the investigation of Wright’s killing to the office of state Attorney General Keith Ellison, who also had been put in charge of the Chauvin case, “to ensure transparency.”
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is currently conducting the Wright shooting probe.
On Monday, Elliott said the city manager, whose office had overseen municipal law enforcement, was relieved of his duties, and that command of the police department was moved directly to the mayor’s office.
Officials in Brooklyn Center braced for a possible third night of civil disturbances.
Hundreds of protesters clashed with law enforcement outside police headquarters on Monday in defiance of a curfew ordered by Walz. Police reported 40 arrests for offenses ranging from curfew violations to rioting, and three officers suffered minor injuries, authorities said late on Monday.
Elliott said he believed protesters were motivated by fear for their own safety, not a desire to destroy.
“What I saw was young people, many of whom looked – all of them look like Daunte,” said Elliott, who is also African American. “And I could feel their pain. I could feel their anger. I can feel their fear.”
Reporting by Jonathan Allen in Minneapolis and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Calif.; Additional reporting by Nathan Layne in Wilton, Conn., Peter Szekely and Maria Caspani in New York and Susan Heavey in Washington; Writing by Steve Gorman and Nathan Layne; Editing by Dan Grebler and Peter Cooney