By Katie McLaughlin
MINNEAPOLIS (Court TV) — Former veteran police officer Kim Potter is charged with first-degree and second-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop.
Jury selection begins Tuesday in Hennepin County Court, the same courthouse where Derek Chauvin was convicted of George Floyd’s murder several months earlier.
Court TV cameras will be inside the courtroom, providing gavel-to-gavel coverage of the proceedings.
THE NIGHT OF THE INCIDENT
Potter, along with an officer she was training at the time, initially pulled over Wright for an expired vehicle registration, as well as an air freshener hanging from his rear view mirror, an illegal offense in Minnesota. In addition, the officers had determined Wright had an outstanding gross misdemeanor warrant.
But as they attempted to take the 20-year-old Black man into custody, he got back in his car.
Potter, who is white, claims she intended to use her Taser on Wright. The 48-year-old police officer’s Taser was on the left side of her holster, her service weapon was on the right.
According to the Statement of Probable Cause, Potter, a 26-year veteran of the force, pulled out her 9mm Glock handgun, pointed it at Wright before again verbally communicating her intent to use her Taser.
Potter shouted “Taser! Taser! Taser” just before pulling the trigger of her firearm; after which she immediately proclaimed, “Holy s**t, I just shot him!”
Wright, who took a bullet to the chest, managed to drive a very short distance before colliding and dying at the scene. His girlfriend was in the passenger seat. She sustained non-life-threatening injuries. Wright left behind a two-year-old son.
According to court filings, Potter could be heard on police dashcam video sobbing hysterically after the shooting. She said “Oh my God” at least 59 times, uttered “I’m going to prison,” and clearly stated she had grabbed the wrong gun.
Potter maintains to this day that she mistook her handgun for her Taser.
CHAOS AFTER THE SHOOTING
Protests erupted the night of Wright’s death and escalated the already heightened tensions from the Derek Chauvin trial. Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted of George Floyd’s murder, was happening simultaneously, only 10 miles away from where the Wright shooting took place.
As details of Wright’s killing came to light, public outrage grew. According to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, between 100 and 200 demonstrators marched toward the Brooklyn Center Police Department. Many threw rocks and other objects at police officers.
The chaos that night led to dozens of arrests in Brooklyn Center, Minnsota, and prompted officials to close local schools the next day — Monday, April 12, and impose a curfew in many parts of Minneapolis.
On Tuesday April 13, Potter formally resigned from the Brooklyn Center Police Department.
In her resignation letter, she wrote: “I have loved every minute of being a police officer and serving this community to the best of my ability, but I believe it is in the best interest of the community, the department, and my fellow officers if I resign immediately.”
Police Chief Tim Gannon also resigned that day. Gannon did, however, say that Potter’s actions prior to the shooting were consistent with department training regarding Tasers, and that the portion of Potter’s bodycam footage released the day after the shooting led him to believe that the discharge of her weapon was accidental.
“The officer had the intention to deploy their Taser,” said Gannon, “but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet.“
On Wednesday April 14, Potter was arrested and charged with second-degree manslaughter. That manslaughter charge accuses Potter of killing Wright by “culpable negligence,” a crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
At Potter’s initial April court appearance, bail was set at $100,000. She’s been out on bail since.
According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Potter joined the Brooklyn Center Police Department in 1995. She was the police union’s president in 2019, spent time on the department’s negotiation team and worked as a field training officer. Potter has two adult sons and is married to a former police officer for the city of Fridley, Minnesota.
A pretrial hearing was conducted via Zoom on Monday May 17, during which Potter appeared remotely before Judge Regina M. Chu from the office of her attorney, Earl Gray.
Gray, who is based in St. Paul, also represents Thomas Lane, one of the four officers facing criminal charges over the death of George Floyd. Gray was also an attorney for Jeronimo Yanez, the former St. Anthony, Minnesota, police officer, who was found not guilty of second-degree manslaughter for the fatal shooting of Philando Castile during a traffic stop.
Before the pre-trial hearing began, Judge Chu took a moment to extend her condolences to the friends and relatives of Wright who showed up for the hearing, which was open to the public.
On September 2, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison increased the allegations against Potter, adding on a first-degree manslaughter charge. Ellison, who had taken over the prosecution, alleged Potter handled a firearm recklessly and endangered Wright’s safety because death or grave bodily harm was reasonably foreseeable.
On September 15, Potter’s defense team filed a motion asking for dismissal of the most serious charge, first-degree manslaughter. That request was later denied.
Judge Chu permitted the first-degree manslaughter charge, saying she only had to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution and make a finding of “probable cause,” meaning it was more probable than not that a crime was committed.
To get convicted on the first-degree charge, the jury will need to find that Potter knew she risked killing Wright and still “made a conscious decision to act without regard” to that risk, Chu wrote in her ruling.
According to court records, Wright’s outstanding warrant — unrelated to the traffic stop that led to his death — was for failing to appear in court on charges he fled from police and possessed a gun without a permit.
Chu made evidentiary rulings that Wright’s criminal record and allegations would only be admissible if Potter knew of those allegations at the time of the attempted arrest.
Wright’s criminal background included allegations that he shot someone in the head, was a member of a street gang and had multiple restraining orders against him. According to a criminal complaint, Wright held a woman at gunpoint, demanded money, choked her and tried to pull over $800 in cash from under her bra.
Both the prosecution and defense agree that Potter didn’t intend to kill Wright. It will be up to the jury to decide if her recklessness rose to the level of manslaughter.
First-degree manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 15 years, while second-degree manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of 10 years, though state sentencing guidelines call for much less. Given the severity of the charge and Potter’s lack of criminal history, the presumptive sentence would be three to five years in prison.
Earlier this month — on Thursday, November 18, 2021 — it was announced that Daunte Wright’s father, Aubrey Wright, would be permitted to watch the trial before being called as a witness. In an earlier decision, he was ordered to be sequestered before testifying.
Aubrey will be called to testify as what’s known as a “spark of life” witness. Meaning, he was not a witness to the shooting, nor will he be permitted to speak about those events. Rather, he will speak about his son as a person to ensure he’s not a faceless victim.
Opening statements are expected to begin Wednesday, December 8. Watch Court TV for live coverage inside the courtroom of these proceedings.
Court TV’s Joy Nakrin and Chanley Painter contributed to this story.