Kim Potter was found guilty of manslaughter in the killing of Daunte Wright.
A suburban Minneapolis police officer who claimed she mistook her handgun for her Taser was convicted of manslaughter in the death of Daunte Wright on Thursday, prompting tears from the young Black man’s parents and a jubilant celebration outside the courthouse from supporters chanting “Guilty, guilty, guilty!”
Kim Potter, a former Brooklyn Center officerBrooklyn Center officer, was found guilty of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter after the predominantly white jury deliberated for roughly 27 hours over four days. Under the state’s sentencing guidelines, Potter, 49, faces up to seven years in jail on the most serious offence, but prosecutors have suggested they will seek a lengthier sentence.
Potter was taken into prison and detained without bail by Judge Regina Chu, who set her sentencing for Feb. 18. A Potter family member in the courtroom yelled “Love you, Kim!” as she was brought away in handcuffs.
As the judgments were delivered, the dozens of people who had gathered outside the courtroom erupted in applause, embraces, and tears of joy. Two men leapt up and down, one on top of the other. Other people began leaping up and down and yelling, “Guilty, guilty, guilty!”
“Say his name!” they chanted. Wright, Daunte.” Some had yellow placards with the word “guilty” written in bold block letters.
When the findings were read, Potter, who claimed that she “didn’t intend to damage anybody,” glanced down without displaying any outward response. Potter made the sign of the cross as Chu thanked the jurors.
Potter’s defenders claimed that she would not commit another crime or travel anyplace if she was kept without bail.
“It’s the Christmas season,” Potter attorney Paul Engh explained. “She’s a devout Catholic, no less, and incarcerating her at this point is pointless.”
Chu dismissed their reasoning.
“I can’t treat this case any differently than any other,” she explained.
After Potter was carried out of the courtroom, prosecutor Erin Eldridge hugged a sobbing Katie Bryant, Wright’s mother and a regular presence at the trial, and Wright’s father. Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office handled the case, hugged the parents as well.
It was the second high-profile police officer conviction secured this year by a team led by Ellison, which included some of the same attorneys who helped convict Derek Chauvin in George Floyd’s killing in the same courtroom just eight months earlier.
After the verdict, Ellison remarked outside the courthouse that it provided Potter with some accountability but fell short of justice.
“Justice would be bringing Daunte back to life and reuniting the Wright family,” Ellison explained. “For Daunte, justice is beyond our reach in this world.” But accountability is a key, necessary step on the road to justice for all of us.”
Ellison expressed sorrow for Potter, who he described as a “esteemed member of the community” before being convicted of a terrible crime.
Katie Bryant, Wright’s mother, hugged Ellison and said the verdicts provoked “every single feeling that you could imagine.”
“Today we received accountability, which is what we’ve been calling for since the beginning,” Katie Bryant said, thanking supporters for keeping the pressure on.
“We love you, we thank you, and we honestly couldn’t have done it without you,” she explained.
The time stamps on the verdicts revealed that the jurors agreed on the second count on Tuesday before asking the judge what to do if they couldn’t agree that afternoon. At 11:40 a.m. Thursday, the jury returned a guilty judgement on the more serious first-degree felony.
Potter, who is white, shot and killed Wright, 20, during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center on April 11 when she and other police were attempting to arrest him on an outstanding warrant for weapons possession. The incident occurred during a period of heightened tension in the neighbourhood, as Chauvin was on trial in neighbouring Minneapolis for Floyd’s killing. Potter stepped down two days later.
Jurors were shown footage of the shooting collected by police body cameras and dashcams. It shows Potter and Anthony Luckey, an officer she was teaching, pulling over Wright for having expired licence plate tags and an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror. During the stop, Luckey uncovered a warrant for Wright’s arrest for failing to appear in court on the weapons possession charge, so he, Potter, and another officer proceeded to arrest Wright.
Wright obeyed Luckey’s request to exit his automobile, but when Luckey attempted to handcuff him, Wright pushed away and returned to his car. “I’ll tase ya,” Potter muttered as Luckey clutched Wright. The video then shows Potter aiming her rifle towards Wright while holding her gun in her right hand. “I’ll tase you,” Potter said again, and then two seconds later: “Taser, Taser, Taser.” She fired a single round into Wright’s chest one second later.
“(Expletive)! I had just shot him… “I grabbed the incorrect (expletive) gun,” Potter said. “I’m going to prison,” she remarked a minute later.
Potter told jurors in sometimes sad evidence that she was “sorry it occurred.” She said the traffic stop “just turned wild,” and she yelled her warning about the Taser after noticing Sgt. Mychal Johnson, who was leaning into the passenger-side door of Wright’s car. She also told jurors that she doesn’t recall what she said or anything that transpired following the shooting since so much of her recollection of those events “is absent.”
Potter’s attorneys contended that she erred by pulling her pistol instead of her Taser. They also stated that if she had intended to use fatal force, she would have been justified since Johnson was in danger of being dragged.
Prosecutors attempted to cast doubt on Potter’s evidence that she chose to act after observing Johnson’s fearful expression. During cross-examination, Eldridge noted that Potter stated in an interview with a defence expert that she didn’t know why she drew her Taser. At her final argument, Eldridge also showed back Potter’s body-camera video, which she claimed never provided a clear glimpse of Johnson’s face during important times.
Eldridge also brushed off evidence from other officers who praised Potter as a decent person or claimed they saw nothing wrong with her behaviour, saying, “The defendant has found herself in difficulty, and her police family has her back.”
Prosecutors also convinced Potter that she had no intention of using lethal force. They said Potter, a veteran cop with significant Taser and deadly force training, behaved carelessly and compromised the badge.
Prosecutors had to establish that Potter killed Wright while committing a crime, in this case, “reckless handling or use of a handgun so as to threaten the safety of another with such force and violence that death or grave bodily damage to any person was reasonably foreseeable.”
Prosecutors had to establish that Potter caused Wright’s death “by her culpable negligence,” which meant she “created an unreasonable risk and intentionally took a chance of inflicting death or grave bodily damage” to Wright while using or owning a handgun.
If several charges involve the same offence and the same victim, offenders are punished only on the most serious conviction under Minnesota law. Prosecutors had stated that they will seek to establish aggravating elements that would warrant an upward deviation from sentence guidelines. In Potter’s case, they claimed that her actions put others in risk, including her coworkers, Wright’s passenger, and the couple whose car was hit by Wright’s after the shooting. They also claimed she misused her power as a cop.
The maximum sentence for first-degree manslaughter is 15 years in prison.