By RAY SANCHEZ
The first prosecution witness at the manslaughter trial of former officer Kim Potter was the mother of Daunte Wright, whom the 20-year-old man called in the final moments of his life.
Wright’s mother, Katie Bryant, cried while on the stand, testifying her son was “an amazing dad” as part of what is called in Minnesota “spark of life” evidence, in which family or friends humanize the victim for a jury.
Bryant testified that she had just given him $50 for gas and a car wash before his death on April 11. He later called and said police had pulled him over, she said.
Wright sounded nervous, Bryant said, and asked whether he was in trouble. She told him he hadn’t done anything wrong and “reassured him that it would be OK.”
The call to his mother was just one snippet of Wright’s short life, which ended during a seemingly routine traffic stop in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center.
The emotional testimony from Bryant and others, along with details that emerged in the days after Wright’s death, painted a picture of a young man with a bright smile who was dedicated to his toddler son and liked to make people laugh.
Potter was found guilty of first- and second-degree manslaughter Thursday for fatally shooting Wright.
‘The worst day of my life’
Bryant cried at times while on the stand during Potter’s trial. She testified that in Wright’s final call to her she heard an officer tell Wright to step out of the car before the call disconnected. She called several more times before making a FaceTime call to her son.
A woman answered the phone screaming, Bryant testified, saying her son had been shot.
“She faced the phone towards the driver’s seat. My son was laying there, he was unresponsive, and he looked dead,” Bryant said. “And then I heard somebody say ‘hang up the phone’ again and it disconnected again.”
A neighbor drove her to the scene, where she stayed for hours, refusing to leave until her son’s body was removed, Bryant told the jury. She said his body was covered with a white sheet and she recognized him by his tennis shoes.
“It was the worst day of my life,” she said.
Bryant began her testimony by describing Wright as a great father to his son, Daunte Jr.
Jurors saw photos of Wright, including one in which the young father was wearing a hospital band, which allowed him to get into the neonatal intensive care unit to visit his premature baby.
“He would play with him. He would do everything that a father needs to do for his child. He was an amazing dad,” Bryant said through tears.
During cross examination, Bryant testified she knew her son did not have a driver’s license. She said she did not know there was a warrant for Wright’s arrest.
An outstanding warrant and order of protection
The attempt to arrest Wright – and the fatal shooting – were set in motion when the officers learned about Wright’s warrant for a weapons violation. The outstanding warrant was for a “gross misdemeanor weapons charge,” according to testimony at Potter’s trial. He also had an “order of protection for a female,” a police officer testified.
The officer who pulled Wright over testified that he noticed the “odor of marijuana” and “marijuana residue” on the center console of the car.
Potter testified that she mistook her firearm for her Taser when she fatally shot Wright during the traffic stop. She broke down on the stand and apologized, insisting she “didn’t want to hurt anybody.”
The former officer recalled the “look of fear” of another officer as he struggled with Wright.
“I remember yelling – ‘Taser, Taser, Taser’ – and nothing happened. And then he told me I shot him,” Potter testified, crying and placing her hands over her face.
“I grabbed the wrong f**king gun and I shot him,” Potter said after the shooting, which happened near the courthouse where former police officer Derek Chauvin was on trial for killing George Floyd in nearby Minneapolis.
The defense has characterized the killing as an accident and argued that she was within her rights to use deadly force to protect the officer, who was reaching into Wright’s car when Potter fired the gun.
Prosecutors maintained Potter was negligent and acted recklessly in mistaking her gun for her Taser.
‘He was loved’
Wright is the son of a Black father and a White mother.
Wright’s father, Arbuey, fought back tears on the stand last week when prosecutors – wrapping up their case – showed photos of him and his son. He recalled supervising his son at a store – “At work, I was his boss and home I’m your dad.”
The elder Wright described his son’s joy at becoming a father.
“He was so happy,” Arbuey Wright recalled. “He loved his son.”
Wright was a strong big brother who looked after his two younger sisters, said his father, who also recalled his son’s love of basketball.
“He was loved,” the elder Wright said of his son, his voice cracking. “I miss him a lot.”
‘Prince of Brooklyn Center’
When mourners gathered in April to bid farewell to Wright, the Rev. Al Sharpton in a eulogy called him the “Prince of Brooklyn Center.” The reverend referred to “a resting place … a martyr’s bench,” where Wright could take his seat next to other Black men killed in encounters with police.
Wright was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, and moved to Minneapolis at age 7, according to the obituary included in the funeral program. He attended Edison High School, where he excelled at sports and played basketball, the obituary said.
Wright was a “warm and loving person who would do anything for his family and friends,” according to the obituary. He loved the Fourth of July, when he would gather with his family and light fireworks. He became a father in 2019, when Daunte Jr. was born.
“My son had a smile that was worth a million dollars,” Katie Bryant said at the time. “When he walked in the room, he lit up the room. He was a brother, a jokester, he was loved by so many.”
The April 22 funeral marked yet another emotional day for the Minneapolis metro area scarred by high-profile killings involving police. The service at Shiloh Temple International Ministries came two days after Chauvin was convicted of Floyd’s murder.
Wright’s family selected a red urn to store his ashes after cremation. That was one of his favorite colors.
“I never imagined that I would be standing here,” Bryant told mourners. “The roles should completely be reversed. My son should be burying me.”
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