When we heard about the officer-involved shooting of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, we had the same thought that many of you likely did – “How could this happen again?” Even after reading the report, listening to the press conference and watching the body camera footage, we’re still left with more questions than answers. In today’s blog, we’re going to try to talk through some of the issues surrounding the shooting of Daunte Wright.
Daunte Wright Shooting
By now you’ve probably heard most of the details about the moments leading up to the shooting, but we’ll touch on the key points. Statements made by law enforcement officials suggest that Wright was initially stopped on Sunday afternoon because he appeared to have expired license plate tags. There are also some conflicting statements being made about the illegal placement of air fresheners in the vehicle, but the police say the original stop was for expired plates. During a routine information check, police learned that Wright had a warrant out for his arrest stemming from a gross misdemeanor charge.
Three officers began to confront Wright, and Wright was asked to get out of the vehicle. It appeared as if things were going smoothly, but then Wright began to struggle and attempted to get back behind the wheel. While one officer grappled with Wright, another officer yelled a couple times that she intended to fire her taser if the incident didn’t deescalate. Moments later, she fired her service weapon at Wright, striking him in the side. He eventually died of his injuries.
You can see the police body camera footage below. As you might imagine, it is graphic.
The biggest question to come out of all of this is “How does a police officer mistake their service weapon for a taser?” It may sound impossible, but the statistics show that it happens about once a year in the United States. By no means does that mean it’s acceptable, but it happens more than you might think. A report looking at data from 2001-2012 found nine such instances, including a case in Rochester.
In the Rochester case, a man who had been drinking jumped in front of a parked police car. The officer got out of his vehicle and a short while later a struggle ensued. The officer pressed what he thought was his taser into the man’s back and fired, but he actually had his service weapon in his hand. Thankfully the victim survived, and while the victim received a $900,000 settlement, the incident was determined to be an accident and no criminal charges were filed.
Similar cases around the US have occurred since then, with notable incidents in Oakland, Tulsa and St. Louis. In the first two instances, the victims died and the officers were found guilty of manslaughter and were sentenced to two and four years respectively. The case in St. Louis is still pending, but the victim survived and the officer only faces second-degree assault charges.
Experts say that the act of grabbing your gun when you mean to grab your taser is a phenomenon known as “slip and capture.” They describe it as something that can happen during a moment of intense stress. Even though you intend to grab your taser, the stress causes you to slip up, and then your body is captured by a stronger, more common motion and draws the firearm. Since officers receive far more training on drawing and shooting their firearm, the brain kind of puts physical actions on autopilot while most of its attention is being drawn to the stressful situation.
Again, this is by no means an excuse for the officer. Officers are trained to carry their taser on the opposite side of their service weapon for this exact reason. Given all that’s happened in the Twin Cities leading up to this moment, it seems likely that the officer who fired her weapon will face criminal charges like the officers in Tulsa and Oakland. They were eventually conflicted of manslaughter, even though they said they did not intend to fire their weapon at the victim. However, manslaughter does not involve intent, which is why the defense will have a tough time arguing that the officer’s reckless actions did not rise to the level of manslaughter.
It’s a terrible situation, and our thoughts are with Wright’s family at this time. And if you need help with a legal issue and don’t know where to turn, reach out to Avery and the team at Appelman Law Firm today.