MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - The prosecution's key witness, Professor Seth Stoughton, gave his expert testimony on Wednesday in the Kim Potter trial.
Stoughton, a police officer-turned law professor-turned use-of-force expert, said he believed Potter meant to use her Taser but he still had to evaluate what happened.
"A reasonable officer, in Officer Potter's position would not have concluded that there was an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm, and thus the use of force was excessive," he said.
Potter's attorneys have argued that another officer, Sgt. Johnson, was in danger on the passenger side of the vehicle during the stop. Johnson reached in to try and restrain Wright, but Stoughton testified that Johnson appeared to be outside of the car when Potter yelled her Taser warning.
He pointed to Potter saying afterwards that she was going to prison as a sign that she hadn't perceived a threat to herself or Johnson.
Stoughton also said the use of a Taser under the circumstances was "unreasonable."
Things got chippy in cross examination, as Potter's attorney Earl Gray worked to undermine Stoughton's credibility and refute his own prior testimony, cutting Stoughton off several times.
"Nothing would've happened except for the fact that he broke away once he learned there was a warrant, is that fair?" Gray asked. Stoughton agreed.
After some debate, Judge Regina Chu also reiterated her ruling that Wright's criminal history can't be used as evidence if Potter wasn't aware of it at the time.
The day ended with "spark of life" testimony from Daunte Wright's father, Arbuey Wright.
"To see him as a father, it was like, I was so happy for him, because he was so happy," Arbuey Wright said. "He was so happy about Junior. It was my chance to be a grandfather."
Below are updates, beginning with the latest.
UPDATE (4:30 p.m.): State calls Arbuey Wright, Daunte Wright's father to the stand to offer "spark of life" testimony.
He begins by describing Daunte Wright's relationships to his younger sisters, and their working relationship. Arbuey Wright, a manager at Famous Footwear, hired Daunte to work for him.
"We had a close relationship," Arbuey Wright says, beginning to break down on the stand.
Attorney Erin Eldridge asks Arbuey Wright about seeing Daunte Wright as a father.
"To see him as a father, it was like, I was so happy for him, because he was so happy," Arbuey Wright says. "He was so happy about Junior. It was my chance to be a grandfather."
"I miss him a lot...every day," Arbuey Wright adds.
Prosecution ends questioning, and the defense does not cross examine.
After the jury is released for the day, Attorney Joshua Larson says to Chu that the prosecution will rest its case on Thursday.
In anticipation of the defense's case, the state objects to repeated character evidence on the defense's witness list. Larson says the roughly 12 witnesses on the defense's list is "cumulative," especially as it includes people who have already testified.
Attorney Paul Engh says five character witnesses are on the list, but Chu tells him to pick three.
UPDATE (4:17 p.m.): Gray returns to questions about Stoughton's CV, emphasizing that Stoughton has served on roughly 30 cases involving plaintiffs suing law enforcement officers.
Stoughton clarifies that he was not necessarily "helping" the plaintiff in those cases, but was reviewing a case to offer his opinion.
Gray then asks about a paper Stoughton wrote in 2018 about body camera videos. Stoughton says the point he was making in that paper is that body camera videos have limits, both technically and in human interpretation.
State re-examines, and Stoughton demonstrates the differences in Taser, in their build and coloration. Frank asks if Wright was being compliant during the incident. Stoughton says Wright was not "fighting." He would characterize his actions as "actively resisting" but not "aggressive."
Stoughton is excused from the stand.
UPDATE (3:37 p.m.): After a short break, Judge Regina Chu rules that evidence about Wright fleeing officers before April 11 will not be admitted, because Potter was not aware of those incidents on the day she fatally shot him.
Defense Attorney Earl Gray begins his cross-examination of Professor Seth Stoughton, the prosecution's use-of-force expert.
Gray begins by asking about Stoughton's employment history, and the number of "critical incidents" he was involved in during his 5-year tenure as a police officer. Stoughton estimates that he was part of a dozen, but never was the officer who fired a gun.
Gray then moves on to asking about Stoughton's training history, and presses about a "spear drill" training he missed about 15 years ago. Then, Gray highlights that Stoughton is paid $295 an hour for his work as an expert witness, and has billed the prosecution about $10,000 so far.
Then, Gray moves on to asking Stoughton clarifying questions about the fatal shooting. He asks if Wright "started" the incident, and Stoughton agrees.
During their back-and-forth, Chu asks the the two not to speak over each other, and Gray asks Stoughton to answer his questions with a "yes" or "no," though Stoughton rarely does.
Chu calls for a 20 minute break.
UPDATE (2:50 p.m.): Court returns at 2 p.m. with the prosecution's use-of-force expert Professor Seth Stoughton.
Stoughton says, during questioning by Attorney Matthew Frank, that Potter's use-of-force was "inappropriate" because of her close proximity to Wright and two other officers.
He adds that officers also received guidance not to use deadly force against a person in a position to use a motor vehicle.
A non-moving vehicle is not a threat to an officer, he says, and if the vehicle is moving, shooting is not an appropriate response. "If the use of deadly force is effective," Stoughton says, "at best what you've created is a potential unguided hazard."
Stoughton draws the same conclusion for use of a Taser, or a "less-lethal use of force." The decision to use a Taser is still "inappropriate" because it's dangerous to incapacitate a person who can get a vehicle moving, he says.
Stoughton testifies that Wright presented a threat of escape, because he was in a position to operate the car. However, he says the officers had already gathered his address and information about his family, so they could have simply let him go, and gone to apprehend Wright him later.
Frank then transitions to asking Stoughton about the history of "weapons confusion" cases, or cases when a handgun is deployed instead of a Taser.
Since the first documented case in 2001, Stoughton testifies, there have been less than 20 cases of weapons confusion. To avoid cases of weapons confusion, Axon, the company which creates Tasers, instructs officers to carry Tasers on the non-dominant side. The company has also implemented trainings and differentiated the Taser from a firearm.
During this portion of questioning, the defense objects multiple times, claiming lack of foundation, and that Stoughton is not a Taser expert.
Judge Regina Chu asks the jury to take a 10 minute break. During that time, she considers the question of whether the state's line of questioning on the use of force has opened the door to admitting Wrights' prior fleeing incidents as evidence.
Attorney Paul Engh for the defense passionately objects to Stoughton's testimony that Wright could have been caught later. He says that it's a false claim, yet jurors have jotted the claim down in their notes.
Chu takes a quick break to think through the witnesses' testimony.
UPDATE (12:30 p.m.): After the jury was excused for lunch, counsel and Judge Regina Chu remained in the courtroom to further clarify what use-of-force expert Seth Stoughton will be allowed to testify about.
Before the jury was excused, the prosecution was questioning Professor Seth Stoughton, a use-of-force expert, about his analysis of Kim Potter's actions before, while and after she fatally shot Daunte Wright.
Throughout the trial, the defense has tried to make the case that then-Sgt. Mychal Johnson's position on the passenger side of the vehicle represented a threat to his person should Daunte Wright have driven away.
In Stoughton's analysis, an officer leaning into the passenger side of a car constituted a risk, but not an imminent threat. The state showed body camera footage from Johnson, and Stoughton testified that Johnson was mostly outside the vehicle when Potter began warning that she was about to use her Taser.
Stoughton also testified that Potter's comments after the shooting, particularly that she said she was going to go to prison, indicate she was aware her use of deadly force was unjustified.
Once the jury and the witness were excused, Chu told counsel Stoughton cannot testify to what Potter was aware of during the traffic stop, but can testify to what a reasonable officer in her position would have done.
UPDATE (12 p.m.): The state's next witness is Professor Seth Stoughton, a use-of-force expert who also testified in the Derek Chauvin trial.
Stoughton, a former police officer, has served as an expert witness around 80 times.
He said that, in his findings, Kim Potter's use of deadly force "was not appropriate, and the evidence suggests" a reasonable officer would not have done what she did.
When Stoughton brought up the concept of "subjective objectivity," the defense objected, and after a brief sidebar, Judge Regina Chu excused the jury from the room to sort out the objection with counsel.
UPDATE (10 a.m.): The court is taking its morning break after more than an hour of testimony from Brooklyn Center Police Department Sgt. Mike Peterson.
It was Peterson's second day of testifying after the prosecution questioned him Tuesday.
Wednesday began with cross-examination by the defense. Attorney Paul Engh started with questions about Tasers and firearms, and Kim Potter's training.
Peterson, during questioning, said there have been "several" instances of officers confusing Tasers and guns, though he testified Tuesday he was not aware of anyone in the department aside from Potter having done so.
At one point, Engh asked whether confusing a Taser for a gun could be an "innocent mistake." The state objected, and Judge Regina Chu instructed the jury to disregard the question and answer.
Engh also asked about the danger of traffic stops, and ran Peterson through a series of hypothetical questions about an incident similar to the Wright stop. When asked if using a Taser in that hypothetical scenario would be reasonable, Peterson said yes.
He also said using a Taser is a form of de-escalation.
On redirect, the state interrogated the defense's assertion, which Peterson agreed with, that a driver without insurance is inherently dangerous.
The state also asked if Peterson has ever drawn his handgun when he meant to draw his Taser.
"Not that I recall, no," Peterson said.
The defense's final question to Peterson was whether officers intend to help each other during instances where decisions need to be make quickly. Peterson agreed.
UPDATE (9 a.m.): -- Week two of testimony began with a flurry of witnesses Monday, but only two took the stand Tuesday: Commander Garett Flesland and Sgt. Mike Peterson, both of BCPD.
The state questioned Flesland on Brooklyn Center Police Department policies and the extensive training Potter received.
During cross examination, Flesland, who has known Potter for more than 20 years and briefly was her supervisor, said "she's a good cop, she's a good person, she's a friend." The state objected, but Judge Regina Chu let the answer stand.
Peterson, a use-of-force instructor, spent much of his time on the stand talking through the user's manual for the Taser used by the department, including several warnings in the manual that users shouldn't deploy the Taser on anybody operating a motor vehicle.
Before Tuesday's testimony, Chu denied two motions from the prosecution that sought to limit the opinion of witnesses who are not testifying as experts and permit questions about police officers' union membership as a way to determine bias.
Chu also said, if Potter is convicted, there will be a separate trial for Blakely, or aggravated sentencing, factors.
Potter is charged with manslaughter in the death of Wright, whom she fatally shot during a traffic stop in April. She says she meant to use her Taser, not her gun.
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