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Former Minnesota cop charged in shooting of Black motorist

BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. — A white former suburban Minneapolis police officer was charged Wednesday with second-degree manslaughter for killing 20-year-old Black motorist Daunte Wright in a shooting that ignited days of unrest and clashes between protesters and police.

The charge against former Brooklyn Center police Officer Kim Potter was filed three days after Wright was killed during a traffic stop and as the nearby murder trial progresses for the ex-officer charged with killing George Floyd last May.

The former Brooklyn Center police chief has said Potter, a 26-year veteran and training officer, intended to use her Taser on Wright but fired her handgun instead. However, protesters and Wright’s family members say there’s no excuse for the shooting and that it shows how the justice system is tilted against Blacks, noting Wright was stopped for expired car registration and ended up dead.

“Certain occupations carry an immense responsibility, and none more so than a sworn police officer,” Imran Ali, Washington County assistant criminal division chief, said in a statement announcing the charge against Potter. “(Potter’s) action caused the unlawful killing of Mr. Wright, and she must be held accountable.”

Intent isn’t a necessary component of second-degree manslaughter in Minnesota. The charge — which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison — can be applied in circumstances where a person is suspected of causing a death by “culpable negligence” that creates an unreasonable risk and consciously takes chances to cause a death.

Potter, who was being held on $100,000 bail, was scheduled to make her initial court appearance Thursday afternoon. Her attorney did not respond to messages from The Associated Press.

Potter, 48, and police Chief Tim Gannon both resigned Tuesday, a day after the City Council voted to fire the city manager, who controls the police force. Acting City Manager Reggie Edwards said Wednesday that because Potter resigned, she is entitled to “all accrual and benefits that is due.” Mayor Mike Elliott has said the city had been moving toward firing Potter when she submitted her resignation.

Police say Wright was pulled over for expired tags Sunday, but they sought to arrest him after discovering he had an outstanding warrant. The warrant was for his failure to appear in court on charges that he fled from officers and possessed a gun without a permit during an encounter with Minneapolis police in June.

Body camera video that Gannon released Monday shows Potter approaching Wright as he stands outside of his car as another officer is arresting him.

As Wright struggles with police, Potter shouts, “I’ll Tase you! I’ll Tase you! Taser! Taser! Taser!” before firing a single shot from a handgun in her right hand.

The criminal complaint noted that Potter holstered her handgun on the right side and her Taser on the left. To remove the Taser — which is yellow and has a black grip — Potter would have to use her left hand, the complaint said.

Wright family attorney Ben Crump said the family appreciates the criminal case, but he again disputed that the shooting was accidental, arguing an experienced officer knows the difference between a Taser and a handgun.

“Kim Potter executed Daunte for what amounts to no more than a minor traffic infraction and a misdemeanor warrant,” he said.

Experts say cases of officers mistakenly firing their gun instead of a Taser are rare, usually less than once a year nationwide.

Transit officer Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison after responding to a fight at a train station in Oakland, California, killing 22-year-old Oscar Grant in 2009. Mehserle testified at trial that he mistakenly pulled his .40-caliber handgun instead of his stun gun.

In Oklahoma, a white volunteer sheriff’s deputy for Tulsa County, Robert Bates, was convicted of second-degree manslaughter after accidentally firing his handgun when he meant to deploy his stun gun on Eric Harris, a Black man who was being held down by other officers in 2015.

Potter was an instructor with Brooklyn Center police, according to the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association. She was training two other officers when they stopped Wright, the association’s leader, Brian Peters, told the Star Tribune.

Brooklyn Center announced a curfew of 10 p.m. Wednesday — the fourth night in a row that the city has taken that action. Elliott, the mayor, urged people to protest without violence, saying “your voices have been heard.”

Outside Potter’s home in Champlin, north of Brooklyn Center, concrete barricades and tall metal fencing had been set up and police cars were in the driveway. After Floyd’s death last year, protesters demonstrated several times at the home of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis officer now on trial in Floyd’s death.

About 90 minutes before Tuesday’s curfew, state police announced over a loudspeaker that the demonstration outside the city’s heavily guarded police headquarters had been declared unlawful and ordered the crowds to disperse. Protesters launched fireworks toward the station and threw objects at officers, who launched flashbangs and gas grenades, then marched in a line to force back the crowd. The number of protesters plummeted over the next hour, until only a few remained. Police also ordered all media to leave.

Brooklyn Center, a suburb just north of Minneapolis, has seen its racial demographics shift dramatically in recent years. In 2000, more than 70% of the city was white. Today, a majority of residents are Black, Asian or Hispanic.

However, Elliott has acknowledged that the police force has “very few people of color.”

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Local
Should NJ prepare for 17% sea level rise risk? DEP says yes, some towns say no.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is strongly suggesting shore towns take steps now to prepare for sea levels to rise 5.1 feet this century.

Local governments oppose the suggested projects, saying they will be too costly for something that may never happen.

DEP acting Commissioner Shawn LaTourette said the proposal could be enacted sometime next year. The proposal also includes new regulations on carbon emissions from vehicles and energy production.

LaTourette, who was nominated Wednesday by Gov. Phil Murphy to be the permanent DEP commissioner, understands the resistance to the rules since they’re based on a model that might not happen.

“I think one of the things that can be difficult about climate change, and understanding and sort of internalizing it and what is that, what does it mean for the places you live or work or love to visit? ... And how do we get ready? Those are the questions that we’re trying to answer. And we want to equip our communities, and the public to be prepared,” LaTourette said.

The 5.1-foot number for sea level rise comes from the Rutgers 2019 Science and Technical Advisory Panel and is based on the amount of global warming expected under current global policies. Given this, there is a 17% likelihood this number is exceeded by the turn of the next century, with an 83% likelihood the totals aren’t reached.

Brigantine Mayor Vincent Sera says while he understands towns need to prepare for future flooding, “It just seems weird that we would create a regulation on something that may or may not happen.”

According to the report, there are three scenarios in the “likely range” by 2100. In addition to the 17% likelihood of 5.1 feet of sea level rise this century, there is a 50% likelihood of a 3.3 foot rise and an 83% likelihood of seas rising 2 feet. For shore towns, the DEP’s calculation of a 5-foot increase in sea level would translate to building structures higher, and higher costs passed onto the homeowner.

Tom Quirk, executive director of the New Jersey Coastal Coalition, a nonprofit dedicated to flood mitigation on the Jersey Shore, said addressing flooding in shore communities is no longer an option.

“Whether you want it to be a priority item or not, Mother Nature has made it a priority item,” said Quirk, whose organization includes 31 municipalities and counties in the state.

LaTourette agrees the DEP has considered the middle possibility, not simply a best- and- worst-case scenario. For example, he said, the DEP is not acting based on a worst-case scenario (which has a 5% likelihood of occurring) of an 8.8-foot sea level rise by 2100.

“If we were to go with what some folks may think of as the real middle of the road, there’s a 50% chance that sea level would see a (3.3-foot rise). … But then we’re saying only half the people, only half the property, half the assets deserve to withstand that risk,” LaTourette said.

Shore towns, including Margate and Brigantine, have opposed the DEP proposal through resolutions.

At a recent council meeting, Brigantine’s Sera wondered why the DEP was adopting a plan to address the next 80 years.

Sea levels have risen about 19 inches in 110 years, Sera said.

“Most municipalities are required to do a master plan with a 20-to-30-year planning horizon, and this allows us to make reasonable changes over time,” he said. “We’re asking the DEP to do the same thing.”

LaTourette insists, though, that while the state is acting now, it is moving deliberately.

“We can’t wait, we need to pay for the future. But in doing that, we can’t punish ourselves today. The only way to start is slowly and carefully,” he said.

The Delaware Bay, which LaTourette described as “the most vulnerable part of the state right now,” also will come under the proposals to the DEP.

That doesn’t appear to surprise or worry Bob Campbell, mayor of Downe Township in Cumberland County. Campbell said out there that new construction already has to be built higher due to regulations. However, the town has seen roughly new 12 buildings in the past 10 years. 

David Rosenblatt, chief resilience officer and assistant DEP commissioner, stressed the DEP report will not dictate new rules but will “set up a framework for discussion with the public.”

“I want them to read this report and find themselves in there, see where they can contribute to the collective ideas that we will need to take this report and advance it to the next level,” Rosenblatt said.

The public will have the ability to comment on the proposals in the late spring or early summer, said LaTourette. Visit nj.gov/dep/njpact for updates on the meetings.

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Fortescue in the Winter on the Delaware Bay

Local
J-1 exchange students coming this summer, but the need for them varies

Every year, Cape May County hosts between 2,500 and 3,000 J-1 visa students from overseas for its Summer Work Travel Program.

The program, through the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, is small but critical for the county as there are never enough local people to fill all seasonal positions, according to Vicki Clark, president of the Cape May County Chamber of Commerce.

Last year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the county only saw about 100 of those students because of halts to visa programs. The students who did come stateside had already secured visas before the pandemic hit.

Clark said in summer 2020, most seasonal employers were understaffed, even at reduced capacities.

“A good number of them had as many as 50% of their positions unfilled,” she said.

But even though the exchange program workforce is coming back, a few hurdles have arisen, which are ever changing, Clark said.

Currently, there is a delay with the students getting their visa appointments.

The student must have a job offer from an employer stateside and then apply for a visa. One of the barriers that was in place, which expired in March, was the proclamation under the Trump administration that blocked a variety of work visas.

“Because of that, there is a huge backlog of visa applications, which require this visa appointment,” Clark said, adding some of the applications in the mix are for permanent immigration.

To make sure J-1 students can come over in time for the summer, a coalition of tourism industries and the state, Clark said, is asking that immigration officials prioritize temporary work visas.

But in Atlantic City, some organizations want fewer J-1 students so more jobs are available for residents.

The Casino Association of New Jersey, Unite Here Local 54, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, and city and state government are in favor of job training programs to put those in the area back to work.

But due to the pandemic, some jobs are still hard to come by.

“We only have 70% of the workforce back to work, so there’s not a broad need for (J-1 students) right now,” said Bob McDevitt, president of Local 54. “When the unemployment runs out, I think there’s going to be a very big need for jobs locally.”

A four-week vocational program for local residents began in the fall of 2019 for jobs in housekeeping and environmental services. It was held at the Atlantic City Convention Center and the Sheraton Hotel but was halted when the pandemic started.

“COVID put everything on hold,” McDevitt said. “The industry was shut down in March until July, so there was nothing to train for.”

There has been no movement on the vocational program due to the pandemic, but he hopes to see programs up and running again in early May.

“J-1’s are just a commodity,” he said. “We’re looking to develop that labor stream locally. Local people back to work is good for the community.”

He also said some of the exchange students who come to the city are promised high-tipping jobs and are placed elsewhere and often live in “flop houses” with code enforcement issues. Others get caught up in illegal activity.

But in Cape May County, many businesses depend on them.

“Even employers who do not hire J-1 students are affected if we don’t have them,” Clark said.

If a large seasonal employer isn’t sufficiently staffed and cuts its operating hours, it reduces foot traffic to other businesses, she said.

Another issue is housing. Because the program is so delayed and shore communities are already into the shoulder season, some exchange students are having trouble finding affordable housing.

“In a typical year, they would have already started coming,” Clark said. “But because of COVID and all these things that are happening with the program, we would expect that students would start to come around Memorial Day. They would cycle in all throughout the season and see us through our fall season.”

The Cape May County Chamber of Commerce will host a webinar at 2 p.m. Monday to present updates on the J-1 Visa Summer Work Travel Program. To register, visit capemaycountychamber/events.

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Local
top story
With a no-increase budget, Cape May pushed to consider room tax hike

CAPE MAY — A public hearing is planned Tuesday on Cape May’s $20.79 million budget, which does not include an increase in the tax rate.

The tax rate is down very slightly compared to last year, according to the posted budget documents. As proposed, the tax rate is a fraction over 36 cents per $100 of assessed value. If approved, it would mean the owner of a house assessed at $500,000 would owe $1,813 in municipal taxes, in addition to school and county taxes.

Although the tax rate remains stable, the city is planning to hire new employees, including a new police officer. It also is moving forward on plans for a new firehouse, with the expectation of approving a bond of just over $5 million to finance that work.

When council members discussed the budget at their most recent meeting April 6, Councilwoman Stacy Sheehan raised questions about the proposed new employees, which will also include a new full-time mechanic, a laborer and two part-time positions.

City Manager Mike Voll told council that each is needed, but added the decision rests with council on whether to fund them.

NJ offshore wind to connect at 2 former power plants onshore

ATLANTIC CITY. N.J. (AP) — A large offshore wind energy project planned off the coast of New Jersey will connect onshore to two former power plants, and cables will run under two of the state's most popular beaches, officials said Tuesday.

“In the interest of public safety for the community — you have a zero budget — if we can keep in place what we have in the areas of public safety, the police, I’d appreciate that,” Voll said.

“I don’t have an issue with the Police Department or public safety, but there are other jobs that I’m questioning if we need or not, to be honest with you,” Sheehan said.

At the same meeting, Dennis Crowley pushed for the city to increase the room tax to bring in more revenue. Representing the Municipal Taxation and Revenue Advisory Committee, formed by council earlier this year, he called on the city to increase its local room tax from 2% to the full 3% allowed under state law. That’s in addition to the 5% occupancy tax that goes to the state.

When the city introduced a local room tax in 2003, Crowley said, it approved a rate below the maximum allowed. In the past six years, he said, that has cost the city $3.7 million in potential revenue.

“We’ve studied this issue. We’ve looked at it. And we have come to the conclusion that Cape May has chosen to forgo the access to revenue available under this existing statute for the last 18 years,” he said. He argued the additional expense would not deter anyone considering a Cape May vacation and would not hurt local businesses.

Contacted after the meeting, Mayor Zack Mullock said he does not expect fast action on the proposal. Crowley’s presentation was not even a formal recommendation, he said. He would not want to see the rates change in the middle of the summer, suggesting that would be a logistical nightmare for hotels.

He would consider a change by Jan. 1, however.

Other questions remain. Crowley mentioned that whole-house rentals and those rented through VRBO, Airbnb and other services are not included in the local tax. They could be under a change in state law, he said.

At the meeting, Councilman Chris Bezaire said properties rented by a licensed Realtor are exempted from that tax. He also is the president of the Cape May County Board of Realtors.

According to Mullock, that remains a thorny issue of fairness that he hopes to work out in the coming months. If possible, he also wants to dedicate any new revenue to a new police station. The current station shares a building with City Hall in what once served as the city’s high school.

A new police station was included in a plan for a new Public Safety Building. Mullock backed limiting that project to the new firehouse, arguing it was too large for the available space.

The budget also includes a new hybrid vehicle for the Police Department and the acquisition and repair of the former Allen AME Church on Franklin Street, which was damaged by a fire in 2018.

The April 20 meeting starts at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 643 Washington St., and will be streamed at capemcaycity.com.

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