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Accounts differ on why Daunte Wright was stopped. Katie Wright, Wright’s mother, told reporters that he called her during the traffic stop and said he had been pulled over “because he had air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror.” The Brooklyn Center police chief said it was because his vehicle registration tags were expired and that after the officer “walked up to the car, he discovered that there was a hanging item from a rearview mirror.” Minnesota law prohibits drivers from hanging items from their rearview mirrors.
During the traffic stop, officers learned of a warrant for Wright’s arrest stemming from an April 2 court hearing Wright missed involving two misdemeanor charges. We don’t know if Wright received notice of that hearing but a spokesperson for the Minnesota State Court Administrator's Office told us that the notice was mailed to the address they had on file for him and was not returned.
In the wake of the death of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minn., on April 11, conflicting narratives about what happened have emerged on social media.
The day after the shooting, activist Shaun King, among others, said in an Instagram post that Wright was pulled over because he had an "air freshener hanging from his mirror."
But on Facebook, another post said that Wright’s car was pulled over for expired tags, "not an air freshener."
Yet another post said a warrant for Wright's arrest related to a guilty plea for "smoking a joint" in 2019. And some social media users argued that Wright didn’t even know there was a warrant because officials sent a court summons to the wrong address.
This remains a developing story. Here’s what we know.
During a press conference on April 12, a reporter asked Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon to discuss what led to the traffic stop. The reporter said that Wright’s mother had said officers pulled her son over because he had an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror.
Gannon, who resigned the next day, said Wright was pulled over because the vehicle registration tags on his car were expired.
"Upon arrival, when the officer made contact I think at that time when he walked up to the car, he discovered that there was a hanging item from the rearview mirror," Gannon said. The officer went back to his patrol car, ran Wright’s name and found that he had a warrant after failing to appear for an April 2 hearing about two misdemeanor charges — illegal possession of a pistol and fleeing from Minneapolis police in June 2020.
"That’s why they removed him from the car and they were making a custodial arrest," Gannon said after showing reporters graphic body camera footage.
Wright said that when the officers were trying to take him into custody "it appeared to me from the video that the individual was trying to get back into his car to leave."
The footage shows an officer pointing a handgun at Wright and shouting "Taser." The car pulled away and the officer swore and then said "I just shot him" to two other officers. The car traveled for several blocks and then hit another vehicle.
Gannon said that he thinks the officer who shot Wright, Kim Potter, was trying to deploy her Taser and accidentally shot him. A criminal complaint against Potter, who resigned her position and was charged with second-degree manslaughter on April 13, does not give a reason for the traffic stop.
Katie Wright, Daunte Wright’s mother, told reporters her son had called her as he was being pulled over, the New York Times reported.
"He said they pulled him over because he had air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror," she said.
Minnesota has a law that bans hanging items from a vehicle’s rearview mirror or sticking them to the windshield.
The ACLU of Minnesota has called for an independent investigation of the shooting.
"The ACLU-MN has deep concerns that police here appear to have used dangling air fresheners as an excuse for making a pretextual stop, something police do all too often to target Black people," the organization said in a statement.
Jonathan Mason, who mentored Wright when he was a high school student in Minneapolis, told the Star Tribune that he and Wright often talked about how to handle interactions with police.
"Those little things will maybe haunt me," he said. "That maybe I didn’t talk to him about the air freshener."
While Wright has had other run-ins with law enforcement, there is no evidence that these encounters played a role in the decision to stop him on April 11.
Later that year, he faced more serious charges stemming from a December incident in which he and another man were accused of aggravated robbery. Court records show that Wright was accused of physically assaulting and demanding $820 from a woman he knew at gunpoint.
Wright was released conditionally, according to Hennepin County jail records, and was scheduled to appear in court this summer.
But there wasn’t an arrest warrant for Wright connected to that December 2019 case. The warrant that prompted police to try to arrest him April 11 was related to his two misdemeanor charges: illegal possession of a pistol and fleeing from police. Wright had missed a court hearing in that case. It was his only outstanding warrant when the police pulled him over.
Many social media users have claimed that the reason Wright didn’t show up to his hearing, and thus received the warrant, was because the notice to appear was sent to the wrong address. As evidence, they point to an image of an envelope that was marked as returned to the courthouse.
However, the returned envelope that’s being shared online isn’t connected to his final, fatal encounter with police. It was filed under the aggravated robbery case, which, again, is unrelated to the outstanding warrant that police discovered during the stop.
Was the notice connected to that warrant sent to an address where Wright didn’t live? We don’t know. There is no returned mail listed for that case, court records show. A judge signed the gross misdemeanor warrant for Wright's arrest on April 2 after he didn’t show for the 2.30 p.m. Zoom hearing on that date.
We reached out to Wright's family's lawyer but didn’t immediately hear back. Kyle Christopherson, spokesperson for the Minnesota State Court Administrator's Office, confirmed that the returned mail referenced in these social media posts was unrelated to the April 2 hearing."The notice for Duante Wright to appear for the hearing on April 2 was sent to the address we had on file for him at the time, and was not returned," Christopherson said."
Christopherson confirmed that the hearing notice was sent to the same address as the one on the previously returned envelope.
Instagram post, April 12, 2021
Facebook post, April 13, 2021
Rev, Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, officials press conference on police shooting of Daunte Wright transcript, April 12, 2021
The New York Times, What to know about the death of Daunte Wright, April 14, 2021
NBC News, Daunte Wright was stopped for expired plates, but driving while Black may have been his ‘crime,’ April 12, 2021
CNN, Yes, police can pull you over for hanging an air freshener in your car, April 13, 2021
2020 Minnesota Statutes, 169.71 windshield, visited April 14, 2021
ACLU of Minnesota statement on the killing of Daunte Wright, April 11, 2021
Star Tribune, ‘My heart is literally broken in 1,000 pieces,’ Daunte Wright’s mother says, April 12, 2021
The New York Times, The officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright just resigned, as did the chief of police, April 13, 2021
Minnesota Trial Court, State of Minnesota vs DAUNTE DEMETRIUS WRIGHT, Oct. 6, 13 2019
Daunte Wright warrant, issued April 2, 2021
Hennepin County 4th Judicial District Court, December 2019 aggravated robbery incident, Dec. 4, 2019
Hennepin County jail roster, WRIGHT, DAUNTE DEMETRIUS, Feb. 12, 2021
The Washington Post, Ex-officer in shooting of Daunte Wright faces manslaughter charge, April 14, 2021
Email interview, Kyle Christopherson, spokesperson for the Minnesota State Court Administrator's Office, April 15, 2021