By Feven Gerezegiher
In the trial of former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter on Tuesday, two Brooklyn Center Police Department (BCPD) leaders testified to the department’s policies and training requirements: Commander Garett Flesland and use-of-force instructor Sgt. Mike Peterson.
In the afternoon, Peterson walked the jury through the Taser training and recertification process. This seems critical to the prosecution’s argument that as a 26-year veteran, Potter should have known better than to mistake her firearm for a taser.
Peterson has been certified to use a Taser since 2005, and to instruct since 2007. When asked why he decided to become an instructor, he said he wanted to ensure his officers are the best trained in Minnesota, for “selfishly, my own personal safety.”
Peterson testified that all officers must go through specific use-of-force training every year to maintain licensing and must be recertified on Tasers annually. Departments have discretion on how training is given to individual officers. He uses “scenario-based” trainings, meant to recreate real-life situations, so officers can learn and practice responding with different weapons.
Taser’s parent company Axon provides certification requirements and material for instructors. Taser recertification entails reviewing a PowerPoint, reviewing product warnings and user considerations, an officer showing proficiency of use, and an officer firing a minimum of two cartridges in “preferred target zones.”
In the training materials exhibited in court, preferred target zones are shown to be a person’s back, arms, and legs. Materials guide officers to avoid firing Tasers into the chest and heart region to avoid cardiac risk. Tasers should also not be deployed on individuals “in an environment that may cause serious injury or death” like operating a vehicle, or “in a physical position that prevents the officer from aiming or maintaining appropriate body targeting, unless justified.”
Peterson said that if an officer is too close to a person, the Taser will only create pain and not neuromuscular incapacitation (i.e. muscle contraction), which is the goal of using a Taser.
According to the BCPD Policy Manual, all Taser devices must be clearly and distinctly marked so they can be differentiated from a gun or other devices. Brooklyn Center uses bright yellow Taser to differentiate; other agencies might use different feels or weights, said Peterson.
Peterson explained their policy is to have Tasers worn opposite firearms, but officers have the option to holster Tasers on either their right or left side. Both holster options have safety releases.
Prosecutor Matthew Frank had Peterson demonstrate the Taser spark function test in court. The test took less than a minute. On Monday, a Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent testified that Potter had failed to run the test as is required before every shift. Also, Assistant Hennepin County Medical Examiner Lorren Jackson testified on Monday that Wright’s gunshot wound damaged his heart and lungs and was not survivable.
Wrapping up court on Tuesday, Frank asked Peterson: “In all the years that you have been working at the Brooklyn Center Police Department, have you been aware of any other officers who have drawn their handgun when they meant to draw their taser?”
Peterson paused. “I don’t.”
Fleland confirmed that neither officer involved with the traffic stop that lead to Wright’s death—Officer Luckey or Sgt. Johnson—has been disciplined or sanctioned.
During the morning break, Potter’s defense said in case of a guilty verdict, Potter wants Judge Chu to determine whether she will get longer sentencing, and not a jury.
The state had expressed intent to seek higher sentencing than mandated by state guidelines due to aggravating factors. The state argues that in shooting Wright, Potter created a greater public safety risk and abused her position of authority.
The trial is scheduled to continue Wednesday morning at 9 am.
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