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Ex-Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon, other character witnesses testify in Kim Potter trial

The bulk of Thursday's testimony came from various character witnesses called on by the defense, including former BCPD Police Chief Tim Gannon.

MINNEAPOLIS —

  • Kim Potter expected to testify Friday in her own defense
  • Ex-Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon, others testify about Kim Potter's character
  • Defense called its own use-of-force expert to testify Thursday
  • State rests its case
  • Daunte Wright's father, Arbuey Wright testified about his relationship with his son

Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021

The state rested its case Thursday morning in the trial of Kim Potter, the former officer charged with manslaughter in the shooting death of Daunte Wright earlier this year, after calling its final witness Wednesday afternoon. Immediately after, defense attorney Paul Engh asked for a judgment of acquittal, which according to KARE 11 reporter Lou Raguse, was standard at this point in a trial.

Engh said he believed the state’s theory was "a confusing mess,” but Chu denied the motion for acquittal. The defense then called its first witness, use-of-force expert Stephen Ijames.

Ijames’ told the court he has completed over 40 years of service as a police officer, including time in the FBI and DEA academies. He also estimated he has put in thousands of hours of training police officers in Taser use throughout his career. Engh asked Ijames whether he agreed with testimony from prosecution witness Stephen Stoughton that Wright was in control of his vehicle at the time of his shooting, which he disagreed with, saying Wright was not. He said under the circumstances of the case, he believed Taser use would have been appropriate.

Ijames also testified that if Sgt. Johnson wouldn’t have been able to get out of Wright’s vehicle quickly, he believed the use of deadly force would have also been justified.

After the court’s morning break, prosecutor Matthew Frank began cross examining Ijames, going over his lengthy career in law enforcement. He agreed with Frank that he considers himself “very dedicated” to his career. He also agreed that he has testified multiple times over the years in support of other officers in criminal trials.

Frank addressed Ijames’ earlier testimony about Potter’s use of force, asking if Ijames had changed his opinion after listening to Sgt. Johnson’s testimony during the trial. Ijames said his initial opinion was solely focused on Potter’s intended Taser use, but after the defense asked him about a hypothetical situation mirroring Potter’s, he said he believed use of deadly force would have been justified based on the perceived danger to the other officers at the scene.

The defense then called a series of character witnesses, beginning with former Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon. Gannon was the chief at the time of Wright’s shooting, saying Potter had worked under him as a patrol officer for a number of years. He described Potter as a “fine officer” known for her professionalism and good police work.

When questioned about the nature of Gannon’s own exit from the BCPD, he cited the fact that he would not fire Potter before she had due process, the perceived political pressures, and the way he handled the riots outside the department in the days following Wright’s shooting.

Gannon agreed with defense attorney Earl Gray that he didn’t see Potter violate any policies during her interaction with Wright, and that based on his observations of her body camera footage that evening, her intention to use a Taser would have been appropriate. He also said that based on his opinion that Johnson was in danger of great bodily harm by being partially inside Wright's vehicle before the shooting, the use of a firearm would have been appropriate.

During Frank’s cross examination, Gannon said he agreed that officers would typically assess their surroundings before discharging a weapon, but disagreed that the other officers at the scene or Wright’s passenger would have been in the path of danger had she deployed her Taser. He did agree, however, that Wright was a moving target.

Before stepping down, Gray asked Gannon if he would ever "lie under oath to protect a friend." Gannon told Gray, "I wouldn't lie for anyone."

Over the next approximately 35 minutes, the defense called four more witnesses to testify to Potter’s character. Officer Colleen Fricke was first, saying she had considered Potter a friend and mentor during their time working together at the Brooklyn Center Police Department. She told the court that she was designated as Potter’s escort officer in the hours after Wright’s shooting.

She said it was her opinion that Potter a “remarkable police officer.”

Twenty-three-year-old Thomas Hall was next to take the stand for the defense, recalling that he had met Potter about 11 years prior, and that he’s friends with her children. He told the courtroom that Potter has "always been extremely peaceful," "helpful," and "always willing to help out." He agreed with Engh that Potter was like a second mother.

Prosecutor Joshua Larson asked Hall during cross-examination if his opinions were based on her reputation in the Champlin community, where he lives, or on "the streets of Brooklyn Center." He agreed his opinion was formed from the perspective of his engagement in the Champlin community.

Frank Roth, another officer who had worked with Potter at the BCPD, testified that Potter was “extremely peaceful.” During cross examination, he said he supported Potter as a friend before the shooting and continues to support her now.

The last witness Thursday was Samuel Smith II, a patrol officer who worked with Potter at the Brooklyn Center Police Department. He agreed with previous witness testimony that Potter was “peaceful” and “law-abiding.”

Judge Chu dismissed the jury around 3 p.m., saying two more witnesses are scheduled to take the stand Friday morning. Kim Potter is expected to be one of them.

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3:00 p.m.

Judge Chu dismissed the jury, telling them there are two more defense witnesses expected to testify Friday.

When the jury was gone, Engh told Chu he wanted to make a record, moving for admission of evidence previously ruled to be inadmissible. Engh went on to describe several previous instances in which Wright allegedly broke the law, including evading police, a weapons offense and assault. He told Chu that had this evidence been allowed, the defense could have refuted the testimony of the state's use-of-force expert Stoughton, who testified that Wright could have potentially been let go and arrested at a later time.

Chu told Engh she stood by her original ruling based on Potter's state of mind at the time of the shooting. She said anything Potter knew about him would inform her decision on how to approach him, and Engh's points were not within her knowledge.

Trial is scheduled to resume Friday at 9 a.m., and Potter is expected to testify in her own defense.

2:56 p.m.

The last witness called on Thursday afternoon was Samuel Smith II, a patrol officer who worked with Potter at the Brooklyn Center Police Department.

He told the defense that his opinion about her reputation in the community is that she is "well-respected" and "very peaceful." He further stated that during his time working with her, she was "very professional" and agreed that she is law-abiding. He also said she "was a calming force with a lot of new officers."

2:49 p.m.

The defense then called Frank Roth, a former police officer who said he worked with Potter for several years at the BCPD as her direct supervisor.

He told the courtroom that he considers Potter a friend and worked very close with her during the course of each day on duty. He said his opinion about Potter's reputation in the community is that she was "extremely peaceful," and that "given the opportunity, Kim got peaceful resolutions."

Prosecutor Larson asked Roth during cross if he supported Potter before the incident, and if he continues to support her after, to which he responded yes.

2:43 p.m.

Twenty-three-year-old Thomas Hall was next to take the stand for the defense, recalling that he had met Potter about 11 years prior at a neighbor's house. He said he is friends with her children and has spent time with her almost every weekend since meeting her.

Engh asked Hall if he was able to form an opinion about Potter's reputation in the community after having spent time with her family. He told the courtroom that Potter has "always been extremely peaceful," "helpful," and "always willing to help out." He agreed with Engh that Potter was like a second mother.

Prosecutor Joshua Larson asked Hall during cross-examination if his opinions were based on her reputation in the Champlin community, where he lives, or on "the streets of Brooklyn Center." He agreed his opinion was formed from the perspective of his engagement in the Champlin community.

2:25 p.m.

The defense then called officer Colleen Fricke to the stand, currently with the Brooklyn Park Police Department, but was an officer with the BCPD at the time of Wright's shooting.

Fricke testified that she worked the same shift with Potter for several years in Brooklyn Center and considered her to be both a mentor and friend, calling her a "remarkable police officer." She also told Engh that it is her opinion that Potter is "law-abiding."

Fricke told Frank during cross examination that she arrived to the scene on April 11 after the shooting had occurred. She told the court she was tasked with staying with Potter as her escort officer, and arrived with her back at the police station. She said they entered a meeting room after their arrival, and Potter asked Fricke to remove her body camera, which she did. She said Potter then told her she no longer wanted Fricke to remain as her escort officer.

Fricke testified that she had developed a relationship beyond professionally with Potter, and said they communicated a lot both inside and outside the confines of work.

1:30 p.m.

Former Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon took the stand for the defense after the court’s afternoon lunch break. Defense attorney Earl Gray began direct questioning by having Gannon describe his rise through the ranks of the Brooklyn Center Police Department, ultimately obtaining the title of chief. He agreed that Kim Potter had worked beneath him for a number of years.

Gannon described Potter as a “fine officer” known for her professionalism and good police work. He told the courtroom about her volunteer experience, including an organization that lends support to families of fallen officers, and a domestic abuse response team.

When questioned about the nature of Gannon’s exit from the BCPD, he cited the fact that he would not fire Potter before she had due process, the perceived political pressures, and the way he handled the riots outside the department in the days following Wright’s shooting.

Gannon agreed with Gray that Potter's actions at the time of the shooting were consistent with BCPD policy and that he did not see any "violation of policy, procedure or law." He stated that based on his observations of Potter's body camera footage, and later footage from a squad car present at the scene, that Potter's intended use of a Taser would have been appropriate. He also said that based on his opinion that Johnson was in danger of great bodily harm by being partially inside Wright's vehicle, the use of a firearm would have been appropriate.

Prosecutor Frank cited an interview during cross examination that Gannon had done with a Star Tribune reporter on Nov. 8. He asked Gannon to confirm his opinion that Johnson was partially inside Wright's vehicle based on body camera footage, but admitted he had not seen a first-person perspective from Johnson's body camera footage, nor interviewed any witnesses. Frank further asked Gannon if officers would typically assess their surroundings before deploying a weapon, to which Gannon said yes. He disagreed with Frank that Potter's intended deployment of her Taser would have put the passenger in Wright's vehicle or the other officers at the scene in danger. He did agree with Frank, however, that Wright had been a moving target.

Gray then took the podium to ask if Gannon would ever "lie under oath to protect a friend." Gannon told Gray, "I wouldn't lie for anyone."

11:07 a.m.

Court returned from break with prosecutor Matthew Frank leading the cross examination of Ijames. He began by going over his extensive career in law enforcement, in which he agreed he has traveled the world for various law enforcement organizations. Frank asked if he would consider himself a “career police officer.” Ijames replied that it’s “all I’ve ever done.”

Frank then asked about his experience testifying as an expert witness on behalf of police officers. Ijames told Frank he is currently involved in five criminal cases, one of them in the same jurisdiction in support of another officer. He then agreed he is working on Potter’s case for free because “someone’s liberty is at stake.”

Frank went on to address Ijames' earlier testimony about whether deadly force would have been appropriate under the circumstances known to Potter at the time of Wright's shooting. He asked Ijames if he had changed his opinion after listening to Sgt. Johnson's testimony, to which Ijames told him his first opinion was solely focused on Potter's alleged intention to use her Taser. He said after the defense presented him with a hypothetical situation mirroring Potter's at the time of the shooting, he then looked at it from a deadly force perspective. He said it would be reasonable for Potter to perceive Johnson as partially in Wright's car, presenting a potentially dangerous situation for the officers.

During redirect questioning by Engh, Ijames agreed that, again in a hypothetical situation, that if the shooting officer perceived that the other officer was in the car, then deadly force would have been authorized. 

Frank ended his line of questioning by asking Ijames' if using deadly force would be appropriate if an officer in Potter's position did not see another officer in the vehicle, to which Ijames agreed it would not be authorized.

10:45 a.m.

The first witness called by the defense was Stephen Ijames, their use-of-force expert. Ijames’ career as a police officer spans more than 40 years and includes time in the FBI and DEA academies. Ijames has led Taser training courses and estimated he’s trained thousands of officers throughout his career. When asked by Engh if Daunte Wright was in control of his vehicle when he got back into his car on the day of his arrest, Ijames said he was not. His testimony contradicts the prosecution’s expert witness Stephen Stoughton’s testimony from Wednesday that Wright was in a position to operate the vehicle and using a Taser would’ve been inappropriate.

Ijames testified that the Taser warning given by Potter was standard and reasonable, and disagreed with testimony from Wednesday that the taser would have been too close to be effective. When asked if he thought Sgt. Johnson was at risk of death or great bodily harm had he not gotten out of the car as quickly as he did, Ijames said “If the vehicle had been put in drive, no question.” Ijames testified that an officer seeing that could shoot.

9 a.m.

The prosecution rested its case in the trial of Kim Potter Thursday morning after calling its final witnesses on Wednesday. Immediately after, defense attorney Paul Engh asked for a judgment of acquittal, which according to KARE 11 reporter Lou Raguse, is standard at this point in a trial. Engh called the state’s theory "a confusing mess.” In response, prosecutor Frank asked Chu to deny the motion, arguing that the burden wasn’t met to dismiss the counts against Potter – first-degree manslaughter and second-degree manslaughter. Chu denied the motion for acquittal.

Over objection from the state, Judge Chu reiterated her ruling that the defense’s use-of-force expert can testify, and said former Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon can also weigh in on use of force.

Wednesday recap

On Wednesday, the trial resumed with the defense's cross examination of Brooklyn Center Sgt. Mike Peterson. 

Peterson agreed with defense attorney Paul Engh that the way officers respond to an incident depends on their training, and said it's consistent among the department for officers to warn a suspect before discharging a Taser. Engh argued why a gun may be necessary in certain circumstances and asked Peterson if he agreed that officers can use deadly force if there is a threat of great bodily harm. Peterson said yes. Peterson also told the court Potter had a reputation for being peaceful and law-abiding.

The first new witness called Wednesday was Seth Stoughton, an associate professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law who studies police culture, regulation, behaviors and more. Stoughton’s testimony hinged on the difference between a threat and a risk, and whether Potter’s response was reasonable under the circumstances of the case.

Stoughton testified that both the use of deadly force with a firearm, and the use of a Taser, would not be reasonable or proportionate to the perceived threat under typical police conduct. He said that Wright presented a threat of escaping arrest, not of imminent threat or harm to Potter or the other officers at the scene.

Defense attorney Earl Gray started Stoughton’s cross examination by asking him to clarify his statements about whether he believes the officers at the scene should have “let him go” and attempt an arrest at a different time. 

The state's final witness of the day was Arbuey Wright, Daunte’s father. Wright told the court that he and his son were “close” and that Daunte “loved” being a father to his son, Daunte Jr. The defense did not cross examine him.

After the jury was dismissed, prosecutor Joshua Larson noted that the state will rest tomorrow, and motioned to prohibit “needless evidence” from a list of character witnesses presented by the defense.

Judge Regina Chu told the defense they could pick three of the five witnesses they planned to call.

Watch more on the death of Daunte Wright:

Watch the latest coverage on the death of Daunte Wright and the trial of Kim Potter in our YouTube playlist:

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