A veteran former Minnesota police officer has been found guilty of manslaughter for the fatal shooting of a black motorist in April.
Kim Potter, 49, has claimed she mistakenly drew her gun instead of a Taser and killed 20-year old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop. His death occurred at a time of high tensions, with the trial over George Floyd’s murder taking place nearby.
Ms Potter’s sentencing has been scheduled for 18 February. Over the course of four days, the 12 jurors deliberated for approximately 27 hours before reaching a decision. The first charge against Ms Potter – first-degree manslaughter – is applied to cases in which the defendant causes someone’s death while attempting to commit a lesser crime.
In Ms Potter’s case, prosecutors accused her of killing Mr Wright as a result of her “reckless” handling of a firearm. The second charge – second-degree manslaughter – is used in cases in which a death is caused by negligence and the taking of unreasonable risk. The first charge carries a maximum penalty of 15 years and a fine of up to $30,000 (£22,000). The second charge is punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment and a $20,000 fine.
As the verdict was read, Ms Potter kept her head down, looking at the jury only briefly, as her two lawyers placed their hands on her shoulders. Judge Regina Chu then ordered that Ms Potter be taken into custody and held without bail until the sentencing. One of her relatives could be heard shouting “love you Kim” as she was handcuffed, to which she replied “love you”, according to court reporters.
Outside the courthouse, a crowd of demonstrators cheered, with some chanting Mr Wright’s name and “the people can never be defeated”. Speaking to reporters, Mr Wright’s mother Katie said she felt “every single emotion you can imagine” as the verdict was read, adding that it had been a “long fight for accountability”.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said that the guilty verdict “shows the whole world” that those who enforce the law “are also willing to live by it”. “My thoughts are also with Ms Potter today,” Mr Ellison added, noting she was “remorseful” and wishing “the best for her and her family”. “But the truth is she will be able to correspond with them no matter what happens. The Wrights won’t be able to talk to Daunte.”
On 11 April, Brooklyn Center police pulled Mr Wright over to arrest him for an outstanding warrant on a weapons violation. Ms Potter’s defence team claimed the shooting took place as Mr Wright was resisting arrest. Police bodycam footage played during the trial showed Ms Potter repeatedly yelling “Taser” before firing a single shot from her pistol. Ms Potter is later seen sitting on the pavement crying. At one point she can be heard saying that she “grabbed the wrong gun” and that she believed she would be going to prison.
The incident took place as the high profile trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin was underway in Minneapolis, just 10 miles away. In his closing argument on Monday, defence attorney Earl Gray argued that Mr Wright’s actions ultimately led to his death, adding it would be difficult to find that Ms Potter consciously sought to take his life.
“How can you recklessly – consciously – handle a gun if you don’t know you have it?,” Mr Gray said. “A mistake is not a crime.” Prosecutors said that Ms Potter, a veteran officer of 26 years, should have known the difference between her gun and a Taser.
Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Erin Eldridge argued that the case was about “recklessness and negligence”. “There’s no ‘mistake’ defence,” another prosecutor, Matt Frank, said during closing arguments.