A suburban Minneapolis police officer who fatally shot a Black man during a weekend traffic stop accidentally drew her firearm instead of a stun gun, the city’s police chief said Monday. Although rare, a string of similar incidents has happened in recent years across the U.S.
Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon said the officer — later identified as Kim Potter, a 26-year veteran who has been placed on administrative leave — had made a mistake in firing her gun at 20-year-old Daunte Wright, who later died. Video of the shooting taken from the officer’s body camera includes audio of her saying “Holy (expletive)! I shot him,” after firing a single round from her handgun.
Gannon said the officer’s immediate distress showed her use of the gun was unintentional.
“As you can hear, the officer, while struggling with Mr. Wright yells ‘Taser! Taser!’ several times. That is part of the officer’s training prior to deploying a Taser, which is a less lethal device,” Gannon said. “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, but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet.”
Some questions and answers about officers who mistakenly discharge firearms when they intended to draw and deploy stun guns:
HOW FREQUENTLY DOES THIS HAPPEN?
Experts agree this is a real but very rare occurrence that probably happens less than once a year nationwide. A 2012 article published in the monthly law journal of Americans for Effective Law Enforcement documented nine cases in which officers shot suspects with handguns when they said they meant to fire stun guns dating back to 2001.
WHY DOES IT HAPPEN?
Reasons cited include officer training, the way they carry their weapons and the pressure of dangerous, chaotic situations. To avoid confusion, officers typically carry their stun guns on their weak sides — or their nondominant hand — and away from handguns that are carried on the side of their strong arms. This is the case in Brooklyn Center, where Gannon, the police chief, said officers are trained to carry a handgun on their dominant side and their stun gun on their weak side.
Bill Lewinski, an expert on police psychology and founder of the Force Science Institute in Mankato, Minnesota, has used the phrase “slip and capture” errors to describe the phenomenon. Lewinski, who has testified on behalf of police, has said officers sometimes perform the direct opposite of their intended actions under stress — their actions “slip” and are “captured” by a stronger response. He notes that officers train far more often on drawing and firing their handguns than they do on their stun guns.
Other experts express skepticism about the theory.
“There’s no science behind it,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina and an expert on police use of force. “It’s a good theory, but we have no idea if it’s accurate.”