Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Fatal police shooting of Daunte Wright in Minnesota raises this troubling question: How on earth does a 26-year veteran officer mistake a gun for a taser?

Daunte Wright protest


A Minnesota police officer fatally shot Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old black man, during a traffic stop on Sunday in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center, with news reports indicating the oficer meant to grab a taser instead of firing with her gun. That this could happen during an already tense time, with Derek Chauvin on trial for murder in the police-related death of George Floyd, boggles the mind. Even more unbelievable is this: The mistaken use of a gun over a taser is not a new issue in law enforcement.

Officer Kim Potter has submitted a resignation letter, but she leaves behind this question: How does a 26-year veteran of the police force mistake a gun for a taser? It apparently happens more than many of us might imagine. From a 2015 Associated Press report titled, "Stun gun or handgun: How often do police get confused?":

Robert Bates, the volunteer sheriff's deputy who killed an unarmed suspect in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on April 2, says he accidentally fired his handgun when he meant to deploy his stun gun. Bates pled "not guilty" to second-degree manslaughter charges at a court hearing Tuesday. He apologized for killing Eric Harris last week but described his deadly mistake as a common problem in law enforcement, saying: "This has happened a number of times around the country. ... You must believe me, it can happen to anyone."

Bates' statement does not appear to be altogether accurate:

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. The list included three instances in California and one each in Minnesota, Maryland, Arizona, Washington, Kentucky and Canada. For perspective, Taser International says its stun guns have been deployed more than 2.7 million times in the field.

Still, how do such mix-ups happen at all?

The way officers carry their weapons, how officers are trained and the stress of dangerous, chaotic situations have been cited. To avoid confusion, officers typically carry their stun guns on their weak sides, away from handguns that are carried on the side of their strong arms. A right-handed officer, for instance, would carry his handgun on his right and his stun gun on his left. In many of the documented cases of confusion, however, the two weapons were holstered near each other on the officers' strong side. . . . 

Bill Lewinski, an expert on police psychology and founder of The Force Science Institute in Mankato, Minnesota, has coined the phrase "slip and capture" errors to describe them. 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 are critical of his theory, calling it junk science and arguing that well-trained officers should not confuse the two weapons.

A 2016 AP report shows such incidents can have an awful mix of tragedy and (for lack of a better word) comedy:

When Alfred Olango pulled out an object from his right pocket last month and assumed a shooting stance in a strip mall parking lot in a San Diego suburb, one officer opened fire with his pistol. The other officer simultaneously stunned Olango using his Taser.

Civil rights advocates say the different response by officers facing the same suspect illustrates a breakdown in police training and communication and shows that some officers are too quick to turn to deadly force.

The Sept. 27 shooting death of the 38-year-old Ugandan refugee who turned out to be wielding an electronic cigarette device came 11 days after another unarmed black man, 40-year-old Terence Crutcher, died in Tulsa, Oklahoma after being shot by two officers also simultaneously firing a gun and a Taser.

“I think when one police officer feels it is appropriate to use a less lethal weapon like a Taser, and the other officer feels like the person has to be killed — it suggests a real divergence in training,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s criminal law reform project.

He added: “I think it highlights that we have a serious problem in this country, which has been seen played out over and over again with police using lethal force in circumstances where it is not necessary and not justified.”

Susan Zhang, writing at Truthout, says there is reason to doubt the Minnesota cops' stories:

The police officer who shot Wright alleges that she had meant to pull out her taser but pulled out her gun instead. Many have cast doubt on that narrative, however; as news outlets like The New York Times have noted, tasers and the type of gun the officer killed Wright with feel very different in hand. They’re also typically worn on opposite sides of an officer’s hip to avoid confusion.

“Not. An. Accident. Why was this cop wanting to pull a taser on a 20-year old kid for expired tags in the first place? Absurd,” wrote leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington). “Impossible that a veteran cop couldn’t tell difference between taser and gun. We need real consequences for these killings.” Potter is a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center Police Department.

Others noted that, if even after extensive training, police can’t distinguish between a gun and a taser, then the system is flawed. There have been multiple similar incidents before, including in Minneapolis, where a police officer had supposedly meant to pull out a stun gun and instead shot someone.

“If someone has been a police officer for 26 years and can’t distinguish a gun from a taser, that’s a solid indication as any that training will do nothing and it’s time to abolish this relic of slavery,” said Bree Newsome Bass on Twitter, racial advocate and artist.


Anonymous said...

Why does a weapon of any kind have to be involved in a traffic stop over an air freshener?

legalschnauzer said...

That's probably more likely to happen when the driver is black. Sad to say it, but this sounds like a "driving while black" case.

Anonymous said...

I agree this was a horrible and grossly stupid mistake by that police officer. But also remember one fact which is present in almost all of these shootings….the victim was resisting the police. If a person believes the police are inappropriately detaining them, the better and only sane course of action is to comply and then bring a lawsuit afterwards for a Constitutional violation. Resisting arrest is never going to turn out well. Ever. And for all the people who advocate doing away with the police….wow, are you kidding me? Surely that will not turn out well. That will only encourage more people to carry guns for self protection, and rightly so. I can only imagine what gun sales will be if the police are abolished in those jurisdictions that advocate such a stupid idea. Talk about the wild west. With that said, this was without a doubt an extremely stupid mistake and should never have happened. And for all the people who will take issue with my description of this as a mistake, rather than a conscious decision to fire a gun, you need to look at the body cam video. Does anyone really believe that officer made a conscious, split second decision to fire a gun while yelling “taser” over and over? Do you really think it was some sort of elaborate charade on her part to kill someone? Get real please. None of this is said to excuse the gross carelessness of this police officer, but the victim here should not have resisted either. To understand the stress that the police are under, all you have to do is watch some of the body cam videos that are posted on YouTube where the police encounter a suspect who is armed and who is intent on using deadly force to resist arrest. These encounters occur in a split second and often result in injury or death to the police. None of my comments are meant to defend any of the aggressive, bullying, sadistic police officers who I know exist. But the victims are at least partially at fault in most of these shootings. Don’t be stupid! Quit resisting arrest!

Anonymous said...

It's pretty scary to think cops get guns and tasers mixed up.

legalschnauzer said...

It sure is scary. I'm sure being tased is no fun, but it sure beats being shot.

legalschnauzer said...

Got to give the cop in this case a little credit for coming up with a creative story, and it might actually be true. I think she was caught on body cam saying, "Holy s--t, I shot him!"

At least it's not the usual "I feared for my life" routine.

legalschnauzer said...

CNN: Officer charged with 2nd-degree manslaughter in Daunte Wright killing

A police officer who authorities say shot and killed a Black man in a Minneapolis suburb after a traffic stop has been charged with second-degree manslaughter, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
Brooklyn Center police Officer Kim Potter is charged in Sunday's shooting death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said.
In Minnesota, second-degree manslaughter applies when authorities allege a person causes someone's death by "culpable negligence whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another."

Someone convicted of this charge would face a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $20,000. CNN has sought comment from Potter's attorney, Earl Gray.

legalschnauzer said...

Details from Insider re: Daunte Wright attempted arrest:

The police said Sunday that the initial stop was over a suspected traffic violation but that they tried to arrest Wright upon realizing there was an existing warrant for his arrest.

An officer, Kimberly Potter, shot Wright after he tried to flee, the police said. Gannon told the media that Potter appeared to have drawn her gun by mistake, having meant to use a Taser instead.

Why the existing warrant? Don't know at this point.

Shaheed Abdulazeez said...

The Chief of police is muddying the water. Making a statement about the situation before an investigation, in my view is malfeasance. The question is: when did the cop take the safety off? If she manually took the safety off; NO ACCIDENT! Murder with intent.

legalschnauzer said...


That's a very good point about the safety. If the cop didn't have the safety on, wouldn't that be a violation of departmental rules? Would like to see more discussion on this issue, either here or elsewhere. Thank you for a most insightful comment.

Shaheed Abdulazeez said...

I'm Viet Nam combat veteran. You don't take the safety off, unless you're going to fire the weapon.

Anonymous said...

In watching the body cam video, the gun the policeman fires appears to be a Glock. Those are standard issue handguns for many police agencies and they do not have any manual safety. A Glock has internal safeties which will not allow the pistol to fire unless the trigger is pulled. In other words, a Glock will not “go off”’ if it is dropped, but it will fire if the trigger is pulled. There is no manual safety, so the officer would not have any safety to either engage or disengage.

Shaheed Abdulazeez said...

To the point, she still had to pull the trigger. No accident!

Anonymous said...

Shaheed, I don’t get your point. You still have to pull the trigger on a taser gun.

Shaheed Abdulazeez said...

You don't get the point bc you don't know rhe difference between sugar and sàlt.Nothing personal! The Police Chief said the officer shooting wàs an accident. However, to fire a gun, a person must make a conscious and physical effort to fire a gun. The safety, that is, when you consciously take it off you intend to fire the weapon. Nevertheless, someone said a Glock , which I know nothing about, has an internal safety. You still have to make a conscious effort to pull the trigger. The police was a 26 yr veteran. She knows the difference between sugar and sàlt. If it was her first mission, I'll cut her some I was a FNG when I learned about the safety. FNG( new guy). That's when I learned sugar from salt.