MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The suburban Minneapolis police officer who shot Daunte Wright will testify at her trial, her attorney said Tuesday as jury selection began with potential panelists questioned closely about their attitudes on policing, protests and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Four jurors were seated in a process that may take as much as a week or more. Opening statements are Dec. 8.
One of Kim Potter’s attorneys, Paul Engh, told a potential juror that she would hear directly from Potter about the traffic stop that ended in the death of the 20-year-old Black motorist in April. Potter, who is white, has said she meant to use her Taser on Wright but grabbed her handgun by mistake.
“Officer Potter will testify and tell you what she remembers happened, so you will know not just from the video but from the officers at the scene and Officer Potter herself what was occurring,” Engh said. “I think (you) should be quite interested in hearing what she had to say.”
Potter is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter. She shot Wright as he tried to drive away from a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center on April 11 — a time when former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial was underway for the killing of George Floyd and tensions were high in the area. Wright’s death sparked several nights of protests in Brooklyn Center and revived painful memories of the sometimes violent unrest that erupted after Floyd’s death in May 2020.
The prospective jurors summoned Tuesday had already responded to questionnaires similar to those used in Chauvin’s murder trial. Roughly 200 people were asked what they knew about the Potter case, their impressions of her and Wright, and their views on protests and policing in the Minneapolis area in recent years.
The jurors seated Tuesday are a medical editor, a retired special education teacher, a Target operations manager and a woman whose occupation wasn’t given. The court later released demographic information describing the four as two white men, one in his 20s and one in his 50s; a white woman in her 60s; and an Asian woman in her 40s.
The medical editor said he has a very unfavorable view of the “blue lives matter” slogan that has emerged in recent years. He said he believes it’s less about supporting police than about countering the Black Lives Matter movement.
But he also said he opposes the movement to abolish or defund the police.
“I absolutely believe there’s a need for change,” he said. “But I think defund the police sends a message, a negative message. … I don’t agree with that message and I don’t agree with the approach that was taken to defund the police.”
The Target employee, who also plays bass in a rock band, described himself as somewhat distrustful of police but said he recognized “that it’s a very hard job.”
The woman whose occupation wasn’t given described herself as a “rule follower” who said she felt police officers should be respected. She said on a questionnaire that she somewhat agreed that police officers should not be second-guessed for decisions they make on the job.
“I think sometimes you just react, and sometimes it might be a wrong reaction, but, you know, mistakes happen,” she said. “People make mistakes.”
Still, she said she would make a decision based on the evidence.
Seven jurors were dismissed, including a handful who expressed strong views of the case. One woman said on her questionnaire that she viewed Potter very unfavorably and she should have known the difference between her gun and her Taser. A man expressed wonder that a seasoned officer could make such a mistake, and told defense attorneys, “I don’t know if you’d want to select me.”
One man questioned in court Tuesday described Black Lives Matter as “Marxist Communist” and suggested Wright was to blame for his death: “I think if he would’ve listened to the (police) directions, he would still be with us.”
Jurors’ names were being withheld and they were not shown on the livestream of the trial. But efforts to protect their identities slipped at times, with defense attorney Earl Gray appearing to say two prospective jurors’ names aloud. Judge Regina Chu warned attorneys to be more careful.
“I don’t want that to happen again,” she said. “I know it was a mistake.”
Potter’s defense team can dismiss up to five jurors without giving a reason, compared with three for the prosecution, standard in Minnesota courts. Neither side needs to justify such a peremptory strike unless the other side argues it was because of a juror’s race, ethnicity or gender.
Prosecutors used one such strike to eliminate a retired fire captain who said he’d had good experiences working with police and has a nephew who is an officer. The defense used one on a woman who had briefly worked for Keith Ellison’s campaign for attorney general; Ellison’s office is prosecuting the case. Engh said during questioning that he saw she smiled at Ellison on the way in.
Potter said she made an innocent mistake when she shot Wright. She and two other officers at the scene, including one she was training, moved to arrest Wright after learning there was a warrant out for him on a gross misdemeanor charge.
As Wright tried to drive off, Potter can be heard on her body camera video saying “Taser, Taser Taser” before she fired, followed by, “I grabbed the wrong (expletive) gun.”
Prosecutors charged Potter, who resigned two days after the shooting, with first- and second-degree manslaughter, saying she was an experienced officer who was trained to know better. The most serious charge requires prosecutors to prove recklessness; the lesser only requires them to prove culpable negligence. Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines call for a sentence of just over seven years on the first-degree manslaughter count, and four years for second-degree. But prosecutors have said they’ll seek a longer sentence.
The jury pool comes from Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis and is the state’s most populous county. Hennepin is 74% white, 14% Black, 7.5% Asian and 7% Latino, according to census data. Brooklyn Center is one of the most diverse cities in the state, at 46% white, 29% Black, 16% Asian and 15% Latino.
Dozens of pro-Wright demonstrators gathered outside the courthouse for the first day of jury selection, and skirmished briefly with a car that drove through their midst as daylight faded. Video posted online showed a person riding atop the car for half a block before jumping off when it slowed, and others trying to open its doors. Police spokesman Garrett Parten said no injuries were reported.
Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative reporter Mohamed Ibrahim contributed to this story.