Cause of Death for Duante Wright: Homicide

A second night of protests erupted outside of police headquarters in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center as the local medical examiner determined Daunte Wright’s cause of death was homicide.

A man raises his fist as he faces the Minnesota State Troopers standing guard outside the Brooklyn Center Police Station after a police officer shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota, on April 12, 2021. (Photo by Kerem Yucel/ via Getty Images)

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner has formally ruled that Daunte Wright’s cause of death was “a gunshot wound of the chest” and manner of death was “homicide.” The report noted that the determination of a manner of death for Wright "is not a legal determination of culpability or intent," but the senior officer involved, who has worked for Brooklyn Center Police for 26 years, has been placed on administrative leave.

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Daunte Wright was pulled over on Sunday for a traffic violation just miles from where George Floyd had died (you can watch live video of the incident embedded in the tweet below). According to his mother, her son became fearful when several officers demanded that he exit the vehicle and put down his cell phone. Wright’s mother said her son called her to say, “Mom, I’m getting pulled over,” and, “They’re asking about insurance.”

Wright’s mother said she heard officers telling him to get out of the car, and when her son asked why this was happening, officers told him they would explain once he exited the vehicle. She said officers then told her son to put his phone down, and she heard someone telling her son not to run.

Wright’s mother pleaded for the public to exercise caution, saying, “I just want people to know that if you get pulled over, make sure you put your hands up and don’t make any sudden moves, and don’t have air fresheners in your car because that’s why he got pulled over. Wright also addressed the civil unrest following the death of her son by saying, “I just want my baby home — I don’t want everybody out here chanting and screaming, yelling — I just want him home, that’s it.”

At a news conference on Monday, Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon played a short video (see video above), taken from a police body camera, that showed Mr. Wright trying to get back into his car as officers attempted to handcuff him on the side of the road.

An officer can then be heard saying "taser, taser, taser," which is a standard procedural warning that police should verbally issue before firing a stun gun. The video then shows Daunte Wright flee into his car and drive away, while the same officer says: "Holy shit, I just shot him." Mr. Wright crashed his vehicle a few streets away after being fatally wounded from a gunshot to the chest.

The police chief confirmed that the veteran officer involved had been placed on administrative leave with pay while an investigation gets underway. Gannon also attempted to explain the actions of the officer, despite the lack of any formal analysis or evidence by saying, "It is my belief the officer meant to deploy their Taser but shot him with a single bullet."

Chief Gannon went into detail about police policy: "For informational purposes, we train with our handguns on our dominant side and our Taser on our weak side.” Gannon continued, “If you're right-handed you carry your firearm on your right side and your carry your Taser on the left — this is done purposefully and it's trained.” The police chief drew the following personal conclusion: “As I watch the video and listen to the officer's commands, it is my belief that the officer had the intention to deploy their Taser…"

Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott made a statement at the same press conference that he intended to do everything in his power to "ensure justice is done for Daunte Wright." Mayor Elliott also announced that the Brooklyn Center City Manager, responsible for overseeing day-to-day government operations, had been fired that evening following the press briefing. "Effective immediately our city manager has been relieved of his duties," Mayor Elliott posted on Twitter.

In response to the protests that erupted following Wright’s death on the first night, state authorities announced that a curfew would be put in place in portions of the Twin Cities metro area from 7 pm Monday until 6 am Tuesday.

Protestors at the Brooklyn Center Headquarters were not deterred by the curfew placed on Hennepin County (see video below), as they remained outside of the fenced-off building that was reinforced by state troopers and Minnesota National Guard members. After police gave dispersal orders to the chanting crowd, flashbangs and tear gas were deployed against demonstrators, who responded by launching fireworks toward law enforcement (see video below).

Authorities confirmed in an early morning briefing that 40 people were arrested last night for breaking curfew, fighting with police, and attempted burglary. At least two businesses, the Dollar Tree and a Speedway gas station near the Brooklyn Center Police Department, were broken into and looted. More than 1,000 Minnesota National Guard members patrolled the streets alongside other state and local law enforcement officials until the curfew expired, and only a few officers sustained minor injuries.

Former Minnesota Police Officer Derek Chauvin will begin to present his defense today for the murder of George Floyd — another Black man who died only a few miles away from Daunte Wright.

In the three months following Mr. Floyd’s death, police in the United States killed 288 people. Of the 288 people who died in police custody, 59 were Black. Roughly 20% of the people killed by police during that period were Black, even though Black people only make up approximately 13.4% of the US population. These numbers hardly reflect a policing system that understands the ramifications of the new scrutiny placed on law enforcement following the death of Mr. Floyd. As the tension surrounding the uncertainty over whether a Minnesota jury will come to the proper conclusion continues to grow exponentially, so does the realization that America does not have another powder keg to spare.

UPDATE: On Tuesday, April 13, Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliot announced in a press conference that Kim Potter, the 26-year veteran officer involved in the shooting of Daunte Wright, had submitted her resignation along with Brooklyn Police Chief Tim Gannon. The mayor confirmed that he was “appreciative” of Potter’s resignation but stated that he had not asked for it and that he was not sure if leaving the force was preemptive because Potter had heard she would soon be fired. Elliott also said that he hoped this would “bring some calm to the community [as he keeps working on full accountability under the law.”

On Wednesday, April 14, former Brooklyn Center officer Kim Potter was charged with second-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Daunte Wright, 20.

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Amee Vanderpool writes the SHERO Newsletter and is an attorney, published author, contributor to newspapers and magazines, and analyst for BBC Radio. She can be reached at avanderpool@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter at @mamasreallyrule. 

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