MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — When attorneys begin sifting through potential jurors on Tuesday in the trial of a suburban Minneapolis police officer who says she meant to use her Taser instead of her gun when she killed Daunte Wright, they’ll take a hard look at their attitudes toward policing, protests, and the Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements.
The prospective jurors in former Brooklyn Center Officer Kim Potter’s manslaughter trial have already responded to questionnaires similar to those used this year in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial for the killing of George Floyd. Roughly 200 people were asked to provide extensive information on what they already know about the Potter case and whether they have positive or negative impressions about her and Wright.
Potter shot Wright as he tried to drive away from a traffic stop on April 11 — a time when Chauvin’s trial had begun and tensions were already high in the Minneapolis area. Wright’s death sparked several nights of protests in Brooklyn Center, which revived painful memories of the sometimes violent unrest that erupted after Floyd’s death in May 2020.
Potential jurors were asked whether they or anyone close to them participated “in any of the demonstrations or marches related to policing that took place in the Twin Cities area in the last two years.” If they participated, they were asked whether they carried a sign and what it said. They were asked if they or anyone they know were injured or suffered property damage in any of those protests.
They were also asked to explain whether they felt that the community had been “positively or negatively affected by any of the demonstrations.” And they were asked to detail whether they or anyone close to them “ever helped support or advocated in favor of or against police reform.” There was also a question on whether they support defunding the police.
Many of the questions were identical at Chauvin’s trial, where jury selection took 11 days. Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu’s timeline for Potter’s trial includes six days for jury selection, with opening statements set for Dec. 8.
Potter’s defense team can dismiss up to five jurors without giving a reason, compared with three for the prosecution, which is standard in Minnesota courts. In Chauvin’s case, where the pretrial publicity was much more intense, the defense was allowed 15 strikes versus nine for prosecutors. 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.
Potter says 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 an arrest warrant out for him on a gross misdemeanor charge.
As the 20-year-old Black man tried to drive off, Potter, who is white, can be heard on her body camera video saying “Taser, Taser Taser” before she fired, followed by “I grabbed the wrong (expletive) gun.” The video shows her holding her handgun for about five seconds before firing.
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.
Attorneys who aren’t involved in the case expect both sides to give jurors a thorough vetting, as they did in Chauvin’s trial. The pool will come 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.
California civil rights attorney John Burris, who won a $2.8 million settlement for the family of a man killed by a transit officer in Oakland who went to prison for grabbing his gun instead of a Taser in 2009, said jurors typically give police the benefit of the doubt. But he said times have changed since Floyd was killed. If the jury selected for Potter is as diverse as Chauvin’s jury, which was half people of color, he predicted that they’ll take a thoughtful approach.
Mike Brandt, a local attorney who also isn’t involved in the case, said that if he was on the defense team, he’d rather have the case tried in a rural or suburban county. He said Hennepin tends to be “more on the liberal side,” with more people who support holding police accountable.
Alfreda Daniels Juasemai, an activist in Brooklyn Center, said Chauvin’s conviction bolstered faith in the courts. She’s hoping for a conviction for Potter, too.
“I have lived in this country long enough to know that getting my hopes up is not going to be good for my mental health,” said Daniels Juasemai, who emigrated from Liberia in 2006. “I do hope that Kim Potter is guilty of something at this point, but I am trying so hard to not expect anything.”
Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative reporter Mohamed Ibrahim contributed to this story.