After Kim Potter, a white cop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, was charged with second-degree manslaughter for fatally shooting Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, last month, activists swarmed the home of Washington County Attorney Pete Orput.
Their demand was simple: charge Potter, who appeared to indicate she was going to use her Taser before firing the fatal shot during a routine traffic stop, with murder.
On Monday, Imran Ali, a top prosecutor in the Washington County Attorney Office and the man originally tasked with convicting Potter, resigned. In a letter obtained by The Daily Beast, he described the past “several weeks” as having been difficult for him and his family.
“The vitriol from some and the infusion of partisan politics by many has made my job difficult to pursue justice,” he wrote.
The news did not throw the case against Potter into jeopardy. In fact, on Friday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced his office would be taking over the reins of prosecution. A press release said the change came after Orput’s office returned the case to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, who, in turn, tapped Ellison’s office.
But the jockeying over who, exactly, will prosecute Potter also highlighted demands from activists for more aggressive charges against killer cops—and painted a picture of law-enforcement officials at the end of their rope.
When reached for comment, Ali declined to spell out his reasons for calling it quits, and said he wasn’t sure how his letter went public. His former boss, Orput, told The Daily Beast Ali’s decision had nothing to do with Potter’s case, and said Ali had been “more than thrilled” to give the case back to fellow prosecutors.
“This isn’t about me giving it up,” Orput said. “[Ali] was right there with me.”
Instead, Orput said he believed Ali “had enough” and wanted to get out.
“I’m sick of this shit,” Orput added. “I’m losing my best prosecutor and my best friend.”
Meanwhile, the leaders of two groups whose members protested outside of Orput’s home say they no longer trust county prosecutors in Minnesota to fairly prosecute police officers, citing inherent conflicts of interest.
“It’s really hard for county prosecutors to really charge their fellow colleagues, if you will,” said Mohamed Ibrahim, Deputy Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Minnesota.
Ibrahim said county prosecutors rely on police departments to help investigate potential charges, which some progressive activists believe is an inherent conflict of interest. He pointed to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, who charged Derek Chauvin and other cops with murder for the killing of George Floyd several days after the incident in May 2020.
By May 31, 2020, Ellison’s office had been tapped to take over the prosecution of that case, as well.
“Eleven months later, we see Derek Chauvin charged not only with second degree murder but third degree murder and manslaughter,” Ibrahim said, suggesting a county prosecutor never would have nailed the case the way Ellison’s office did. The Hennepin County Attorney’s Office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.
Ibrahim added that in the case of Potter, Orput told protesters outside his home that he could bring murder charges against her but that he didn’t think he would win if he did.
“I don’t think it’s up to him to decide,” Ibrahim said. “I think it’s up to the people and ultimately the jury.”
Orput declined to comment about his decision not to bring murder charges, nor his comments to protesters.
Johnathon McClellan, president of Minnesota Justice Coalition, said he was hopeful that Ellison taking over the case and bringing “fresh eyes” might result in murder charges that he believes are fitting for Potter.
“She should be charged as anyone else would,” he said. “She should not be given special treatment. She should be charged with murder.”
Last week, Ellison said in a statement that he did not actively seek to take over the prosecution of Potter and expressed confidence in how Orput and Freeman had handled the case. He also said Wright’s death was a “tragedy” and that he should not have “died the way that he did.”
“I promise the Wright family and all Minnesotans that I will handle this prosecution responsibly and consistent with the law, and that I will be guided by the values of accountability and transparency,” Ellison said.
“No one, however, should expect this case will be easy to prosecute,” he added. “History shows that this case, like all cases of officer-involved deaths by deadly force, will be difficult.”
On Monday, John Stiles, a spokesman for Ellison’s office, said the attorney general was in the process of reviewing all the evidence and current charges against Potter. He declined to comment about the prospect of murder charges to come.
Earl Gray, Potter’s defense attorney, did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.
McClellan and Ibrahim said that while they were “hopeful” that Ellison’s taking over the case might lead to heftier charges, they don’t see passing every police involved death to the state AG as a sustainable model. Instead, they want an independent body specifically devoted to prosecuting cases of police violence.
“We need to do something because time and time again these county prosecutors don’t do their due diligence,” he said. “Their job isn’t to represent the police, their job is to represent crimes against the community.”