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'Slip and Capture' Theory May Explain Gun-Taser Mix-Up

Nation has seen at least 11 cases in which the explanation has been used since 1999
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 13, 2021 1:05 PM CDT

(Newser) – Police in Minnesota say the shooting of Daunte Wright happened because Officer Kim Potter mistakenly fired her gun instead of her Taser. Various outlets are digging into the subject, with the same general conclusion: The phenomenon is real, though it's rare. Coverage:

  • 11 times: The Minneapolis Star Tribune has found 11 instances nationwide since 1999 in which a gun-Taser mix-up has been blamed in a police shooting. That includes at least three other fatalities in addition to Wright. The year 1999 was when a gun-shaped Taser, the M-26, came into vogue.
  • How: By now, most departments—including the one in Brooklyn Center, where Wright was shot—require officers to carry Tasers on their weak-hand side, opposite of their gun. Tasers are generally lighter than guns and have a different feel, but officers have been known to mistakenly grab their handgun by mistake in the heat of a chaotic situation, per the AP.
  • A theory: Bill Lewinski, described as an expert on police psychology and founder of the Force Science Institute, uses the phrase "slip and capture" to describe how officers might do the opposite of their intended action in moments of stress. "Their actions 'slip' and are 'captured' by a stronger response," per the AP. Officers typically train far more often on drawing their handguns than stun guns, and that training might take over. The story, however, notes that critics say there's no substantive science to back up this theory.

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  • Famous case: Perhaps the most famous instance in which such a gun-Taser mix-up was blamed is the 2009 fatal shooting of Oscar Grant on a train in Oakland, reports the Washington Post. The Michael B. Jordan movie Fruitvale Station is based on the incident. "It’s totally shocking that it would occur, even yesterday," the lawyer who represented Grant’s family tells the Post, referring to the Wright shooting. "But the beat goes on," says John Burris. "Even if this one turned out to be tragic, the initial conduct, the racial profiling—that happens all the time."
  • Charges: Officers in such cases are rarely charged or receive only minimal jail time, notes the New York Times, which has an interactive graphic on gun-Taser comparisons. (The officer who shot Grant served 11 months for involuntary manslaughter.) It remains unclear if Potter, who killed Wright, will face charges herself. She is heard on video yelling "Taser" multiple times before shooting. Then she says, "Holy s---, I shot him," seemingly surprised that she had fired her handgun.
(Read more Daunte Wright stories.)

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