Police say U.S. officer in Black man's killing mistakenly fired gun instead of Taser
BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. (Reuters) - The fatal police shooting of a young Black man in a Minneapolis suburb appeared to result from an officer accidentally opening fire with her gun instead of a Taser in the midst of a struggle during a traffic stop, the city's police chief said on Monday.
The shooting of Daunte Wright, 20, in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, unfolded on Sunday just 10 miles from the Minneapolis courthouse where a former police officer is standing trial in the fatal arrest last May of George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man. Floyd's death sparked months of nationwide protests and civil strife over racial bias and police brutality in U.S. law enforcement.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz on Monday ordered a dusk-to-dawn curfew in a three-county area that includes Minneapolis and St. Paul, a region already under heightened security during the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former white Minneapolis police officer charged with killing Floyd.
His order followed unrest on Sunday in Brooklyn Center, where riot police fired teargas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds of protesters, some of them lobbing rocks, bags of garbage and other projectiles. Police and local news media reported looting and burglaries of about 20 businesses at a nearby shopping center.
Speaking to a crowd that had gathered at a vigil on Monday ahead of the curfew, the victim's mother, Katie Wright, wept as she described her son. “He was a son, he was a brother, he was an uncle, he was a father, he was a grandson and he was so much more and he didn’t deserve this... My heart is broken into a thousand pieces."
Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon told a news briefing earlier that a routine traffic stop escalated into a deadly confrontation when officers ran a check on Wright's expired vehicle registration and found an outstanding warrant for him.
Police video footage presented at the briefing showed an officer trying to handcuff Wright next to the car, before Wright broke free and got back inside his car. At that point, a second officer yells, "Taser, Taser, Taser," before firing a single shot from her handgun, the video shows.
"Holy shit, I just shot him," the policewoman is heard to shout as the car rolls away with Wright still in the driver's seat. The car traveled several blocks before striking another vehicle and coming to a stop again.
Gannon said the investigation was in its early stages but based on evidence reviewed by the police, the shooting appeared accidental. The unidentified officer who shot Wright was placed on administrative leave.
"This appears to me, from what I viewed and the officers' reaction and distress immediately after, that this was an accidental discharge that resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Wright," he said.
But hours later, Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott, who called for the police officer who shot Wright to be dismissed from the force, said the city council had approved a motion to shift command over the city police department to his office.
"At such a tough time, this will streamline things and establish a chain of command and leadership," Elliott said on Twitter.
Elliott said the shooting "couldn’t have happened at a worse time" as the trial of Chauvin, videotaped kneeling on Floyd's neck for more than nine minutes, entered its 11th day on Monday.
The killing in Brooklyn Center, like several other recent high-profile fatal police shootings of Black men, including the 2016 death of Philando Castile in St. Paul, originated with the kind of traffic stop that civil rights activists say have all too often been used by law enforcement as a form of harassment of minority motorists.
Terri Nelson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, pointed to a Hennepin County Public Defenders Office report finding that 54% of drivers stopped for minor equipment violations between January and September in 2018 in Minneapolis were Black, though African Americans represent just 19% of the city's population.
"These are highly discretionary, and when you have that discretion, either implicitly or explicitly, police biases come into the picture," Nelson said.
BIDEN URGES INVESTIGATION
President Joe Biden urged a "full-blown investigation" of Wright's death and appealed for protests to remain peaceful, while also condemning lawlessness.
"It is really a tragic thing that happened, but I think we've got to wait and see what the investigation shows," Biden told reporters at the White House.
Ben Crump, the attorney who helped win a $27 million civil settlement for the Floyd family from the city of Minneapolis, said he was also representing the Wrights.
"Daunte Wright is yet another young Black man killed at the hands of those who have sworn to protect and serve all of us - not just the whitest among us," Crump said in a statement.
Governor Walz said he would push state lawmakers to consider police reforms that have been adopted in other states with support from law enforcement.
Wright's mother told reporters on Sunday she had received a call from her son telling her police had pulled him over for having air fresheners dangling from his rear-view mirror, which is illegal in Minnesota. She could hear police tell her son to get out of the vehicle, she said.
The police chief said "a hanging item from the rear-view mirror" was discovered when police pulled Wright over.
Wright's father, Aubrey, told the Washington Post that his son had dropped out of high school a few years earlier due to a learning disability and had been working various jobs to help support his 2-year-old son.
(Reporting by Nicholas Pfosi in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, and Jonathan Allen in Minneapolis; additional reporting by Peter Szekely and Maria Caspani in New York, Gabriella Borter in Washington DC, Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut and Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Howard Goller and Dan Grebler)
© Copyright Reuters Ltd. All rights reserved. The information contained in this news report may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of Reuters Ltd.