Dueling Experts Take Stand In Former Officer's Murder Trial

Hennepin County Sheriff via AP

For former Officer Kim Potter, life boils down to a trial.

As things stand, she’s accused of murdering Daunte Wright when she pulled her firearm instead of her taser. I don’t even want to imagine what a murder trial is like if you’re the one accused of it.

However, most of us have seen what happened. The bodycam footage was out there and Potter did what she’s accused of doing–killing Wright. What’s in question is pretty much everything else.

Now, dueling experts are taking the stand.

Seth Wayne Stoughton, a professor at the University of South Carolina School of Law, told jurors he didn’t think a “reasonable officer” would have grabbed a Taser if they truly thought there was an immediate threat of danger at that time.

“The use of deadly force was not appropriate and the evidence suggests a reasonable officer in Officer Potter’s position could not have believed it was proportional to the threat at the time,” he said.

Earlier Wednesday, a different use-of-force expert, Sgt. Mike Peterson, testified that police officers are allowed to use Tasers if someone is physically resisting police officers or who are violent.

Peterson, an instructor for the use of force and Taser use at the Brooklyn Center Police Department, told the jury an officer only has moments to decide their next steps. The decision to use a Taser or another form of force “has to be made in a very short amount of time.”

Peterson testified that officers are trained to give a verbal warning, such as saying “I’ll tase you,” before firing their weapon at an individual. He also told jurors that other officers in the country had previously mistaken a gun for a Taser in the country.

So let’s break this down a bit, starting with what Stoughton said on the stand.

Maybe I missed it, but I don’t recall anyone trying to claim lethal force was justified. Potter’s claim from the start was that she grabbed the firearm, thinking it was the taser. As such, I don’t really see why a discussion on the use of force continuum, particularly whether lethal force was justified, is relevant in this particular murder trial.

Peterson’s testimony seems far more relevant, and he’s not wrong that officers have confused their firearm for their taser. There’s a reason that many departments mandate officers carry their tasers on the opposite side of their duty belt than their firearms. That kind of mistake is far less likely to happen if you’ve trained yourself to cross-draw a taser as opposed to a straight draw for your service weapon.

Frankly, that should be SOP for every department in the country.

It seems that Potter’s fate currently depends on whether or not the jury in this particular murder trial listens to which expert. I don’t think she’s going to walk–the bodycam footage shows that she did something wrong, after all–but I do think this was most likely a tragic accident. It shouldn’t have happened.

Daunte Wright may not have been a very good person, but that doesn’t mean he should have been killed in that encounter. Arrested? Absolutely, but things clearly went too far because of Potter’s mistake.

We’ll just have to see what and who the jury opts to listen to.