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Minnesota officer charged with manslaughter over death of Daunte Wright as Derek Chauvin trial continues

A white former police officer who shot dead a black man in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota on Sunday night after “accidentally” firing her handgun instead of a Taser was charged with second-degree manslaughter on Wednesday.

Kimberly Potter shot Daunte Wright in the chest during a traffic stop, setting off days of unrest in the region, already on edge with the ongoing murder trial of Derek Chauvin, another former Minnesota police officer.

Ms Potter, a 26-year-veteran of the Brooklyn Center police force, resigned after body camera footage of the killing triggered clashes between law enforcement and protesters outside the department's headquarters.

Ms Potter said she had decided to step down “in the best interest of the community” as well as her fellow officers. The force's police chief Tim Gannon also resigned.

Ms Potter, 48, was arrested and booked into Hennepin County jail on Wednesday, where she will await her first court appearance in the case, prosecutors said. Ms Potter was being held without bond, jail records showed.

A conviction requires prosecutors to prove Ms Potter was "culpably negligent" and created "an unreasonable risk". In Minnesota second-degree manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of ten years in prison and $20,000 fine, but a lesser sentence is much more likely.

The charge against Ms Potter is relatively unusual for a police officer but comes as the murder trial of Mr Chauvin for the death of George Floyd continues just 10 miles away in downtown Minneapolis.

Mr Chauvin also faces a charge of second-degree manslaughter. In addition he faces two more serious charges of second and third-degree murder after pinning Mr Floyd, an unarmed black man, to the ground for more than nine minutes during an arrest last May.

The defence called Dr David Fowler, a retired forensic pathologist, to the stand on Wednesday to testify that in his opinion Mr Floyd's death was caused by his heart suddenly beating in an erratic way, known as sudden cardiac arrhythmia.

Dr Fowler said Mr Floyd's heart disease and high blood pressure, the fentanyl and methamphetamine in his system and potential exposure to carbon monoxide from a car exhaust, were contributing factors.  

"All of those combined to cause Mr Floyd's death," he told jurors in Hennepin County district court.

The testimony contradicts several experts called by the prosecution who said the 46-year-old's died from insufficient oxygen caused by Mr Chauvin kneeling on his neck.

During an aggressive cross-examination, prosecutor Jerry Blackwell attacked several of Dr Fowler's findings, and solicited an acknowledgement that even someone who dies from oxygen deprivation ultimately dies of an arrhythmia.

Mr Fowler agreed with prosecutors that Mr Floyd was dead "long before" he reached hospital and should have been given immediate medical attention when he went into cardiac arrest.

Mr Blackwell also attacked Mr Fowler's testimony about carbon monoxide, which displaces oxygen in the bloodstream, noting that Mr Floyd's blood was never tested for carbon monoxide.

"You haven't seen any data or test results that showed Mr Floyd had a single injury from carbon monoxide. Is that true?" Blackwell asked.

"That is correct, because it was never sent," Mr Fowler replied.

Mr Floyd's family, who have attended each day of the trial, have offered their support to the family of Mr Wright as they demand an end to the killing of unarmed black men by white police officers.  

"The world is traumatised watching another African American man being slain," Mr Floyd's younger brother Philonise said, as he stood alongside Mr Wright's relatives outside the courthouse.

Attorney Benjamin Crump, who is representing the Floyd family and the Wright family, said the manslaughter charge against Ms Potter was a step but could not give them "their loved one back".

"While we appreciate that the district attorney is pursuing justice for Daunte, no conviction can give the Wright family their loved one back. This was no accident. This was an intentional, deliberate, and unlawful use of force. Driving while Black continues to result in a death sentence," Mr Crump said.

Chauvin's actions were 'reasonable'

Bystander footage of Mr Chauvin, a white officer, kneeling on the unarmed black man triggered an international outcry and a number of witnesses, including the Minneapolis Police Chief, have told the court the actions were an excessive use of force. 

But in testimony on Tuesday, Barry Brodd, a former officer from California, said: "It's easy to sit and judge ... an officer's conduct". 

"It's more of a challenge to, again, put yourself in the officer's shoes to try to make an evaluation through what they're feeling, what they're sensing, the fear they have, and then make a determination," he added.

Mr Brodd suggested the restraint technique did not constitute the use of deadly force, instead suggesting it was "an accidental death".

"I felt that Officer Chauvin's interactions with Mr Floyd were following his training, following current practices in policing and were objectively reasonable," he said.

However during cross-examination, Mr Brodd acknowledged that Mr Chauvin’s restraint qualified as a use of force under the Minneapolis Police Department's policies.

The question of what is reasonable force is central to the case. Police officers are allowed certain latitude to use deadly force when someone puts the officer or other people in danger. Legal experts say a key issue for the jury will be whether Mr Chauvin's actions were reasonable in those specific circumstances.

Mr Brodd contradicted the testimony of several prosecution witnesses, saying that Mr Floyd appeared to be resisting arrest while pinned to the ground and supporting the mantra that if someone can talk, they can breathe.

"I certainly don't have medical degrees, but I was always trained and feel it's a reasonable assumption that if somebody's, 'I'm choking, I'm choking,' well, you're not choking because you can breathe," he said.

Mr Chauvin, 45, is on trial on charges of murder and manslaughter in Mr Floyd's death last May after his arrest of suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 at a neighbourhood market.

Defence raises 'excited delirium'

The defence began presenting its case on Tuesday after the prosecution rested following 11 days of testimony and a mountain of video evidence.

Mr Nelson started by bringing up a 2019 arrest in which Mr Floyd suffered from dangerously high blood pressure and confessed to heavy use of opioids. 

He also raised the concept of "excited delirium", a controversial diagnosis described as a potentially lethal state of agitation and even superhuman strength that can be triggered by drugs, heart disease or mental problems.

Nicole Mackenzie, a Minneapolis police training officer, was called by Mr Nelson to expound on the term. While Mr Floyd was pinned to the ground, another officer at the scene had mentioned he was "worried" the 46-year-old might be suffering from the condition.

Ms Mackenzie testified that the signs of excited delirium can include incoherent speech, extraordinary strength and sweating, and that officers are trained to call paramedics, because a person in that state can rapidly go into cardiac arrest.

However there is no consensus within the medical community that excited delirium is a real condition, and recent research shows it has been disproportionately attributed to deaths involving young black men, many of which occurred in police custody.

Last week leading health professionals told The Telegraph the "catch-all" diagnosis is being used to justify police brutality and have called for it to no longer be used. Read more about it here.

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