Daunte Wright Case: Kim Potter is Convicted on Two Charges of Manslaughter

The prosecution and defense had agreed that the shooting was a mistake and that Ms. Potter, who is white, had meant to draw her Taser when she fatally shot Mr. Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop.

Dec. 23, 2021, 3:45 p.m. ETDec. 23, 2021, 3:45 p.m. ET

After 27 hours of deliberations, a jury convicted Kimberly Potter, a former police officer, of two counts of manslaughter for fatally shooting Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minn., on April 11.

Ms Potter will be sentenced at a hearing in February. The more serious of the two counts, first-degree manslaughter, is punishable by as much as 15 years in prison, though the standard sentence is about half that.

Here are the specifics of the two counts.

COUNT I

First-degree manslaughter

One of the ways Minnesota law defines first-degree manslaughter is causing someone’s death while committing or attempting to commit a lesser crime — a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor — in a way that a reasonable person could foresee would cause death or great bodily harm.

Specifically, prosecutors accused Ms. Potter of causing Mr. Wright’s death through the reckless handling or use of a firearm.

First-degree manslaughter is a felony, punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $30,000. The standard prison sentence for someone without a prior criminal record, like Ms. Potter, would be a little more than seven years.

COUNT II

Second-degree manslaughter

One of the ways Minnesota law defines second-degree manslaughter is causing someone’s death through culpable negligence, by creating an unreasonable risk and consciously taking chances of causing death or great bodily harm.

Prosecutors persuaded the jury that Ms. Potter had done so in the use of her firearm.

Second-degree manslaughter is a felony, punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $20,000. The standard sentence for a person without any previous convictions would be about four years. But because Ms. Potter was also convicted of a more serious charge, first-degree manslaughter, in connection with the same death, this count is unlikely to affect the total length of her sentence.

Dec. 23, 2021, 3:35 p.m. ETDec. 23, 2021, 3:35 p.m. ET

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs

Reporting from Minneapolis

Daunte Wright’s mother, Katie Bryant, says in a news conference that she was feeling “every single emotion that you could imagine” when she heard the guilty verdict.

Dec. 23, 2021, 3:26 p.m. ETDec. 23, 2021, 3:26 p.m. ET

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs

Reporting from Minneapolis

Keith Ellison, the Minnesota attorney general whose office led the successful prosecution of Kimberly Potter, at a post-verdict news conference with Daunte Wright’s parents: “At 20, Daunte could’ve done anything.”

Dec. 23, 2021, 3:32 p.m. ETDec. 23, 2021, 3:32 p.m. ET

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs

Reporting from Minneapolis

Ellison says his thoughts are also with Potter, who he said “has gone from being an esteemed member of the community and honored member of a noble profession to being convicted of a serious crime.” He added: “I don’t wish that on anyone, but it was our responsibility as the prosecution, as ministers of justice, to pursue justice wherever it led, and the jury found the facts.”

Dec. 23, 2021, 2:51 p.m. ETDec. 23, 2021, 2:51 p.m. ET
The Taser and pistol Ms. Potter carried on April 11, as they were shown in court.

Incidents in which police officers mistakenly fired their guns when they meant to draw their Tasers have not been common, but there have been several in recent years.

In 2018, a rookie Kansas police officer mistakenly shot a man who was fighting with a fellow officer. In 2019, a police officer in Pennsylvania shouted “Taser!” before shooting an unarmed man in the torso. And in one of the most publicized cases, a white police officer with the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency said he had meant to fire his Taser when he fatally shot Oscar Grant III, who was Black, as Mr. Grant was lying facedown on the train platform on New Year’s Day in 2009.

In April, The New York Times reported that of 15 cases of so-called weapon confusion in the last two decades, a third of the officers were indicted, and three officers were found guilty, including the only two cases in which people were killed.

In Kimberly Potter’s trial, one of the prosecution’s expert witnesses testified that he was aware of fewer than 20 instances of what is called “weapons confusion” between a Taser and a gun since 2001.

The witness, Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who studies the use of force by police officers, said many police forces now train officers on how to avoid weapons confusion, which he called a “very well-known” risk.

To reduce the risk, Mr. Stoughton said, many law enforcement agencies advise officers to keep their Taser on the nondominant side of their police belt, as Ms. Potter’s was. And the companies that make stun guns have tried to make them appear more distinct from guns. Many Tasers are at least partially bright yellow, as Ms. Potter’s was.

In Ms. Potter’s case, prosecutors did not dispute that she drew her gun by mistake. They made a case to jurors that she acted so recklessly — given her experience and training — that she should be found guilty of manslaughter. The jury apparently agreed.

Dec. 23, 2021, 2:50 p.m. ETDec. 23, 2021, 2:50 p.m. ET

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs

Reporting from Minneapolis

Inside the courtroom, one of Kimberly Potter’s relatives shouts, “Love you Kim!” and she responds, “Love you,” from behind her mask as she is handcuffed. Deputies then lead her out of the courtroom.

Dec. 23, 2021, 2:50 p.m. ETDec. 23, 2021, 2:50 p.m. ET

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs

Reporting from Minneapolis

Kimberly Potter is scheduled to be sentenced at a hearing on Feb. 18.

Dec. 23, 2021, 2:48 p.m. ETDec. 23, 2021, 2:48 p.m. ET

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs

Reporting from Minneapolis

Minnesota sentencing guidelines recommend a sentence of a little over seven years for first-degree manslaughter, the more serious of the two counts on which Potter was found guilty. She was also convicted of second-degree manslaughter, but that is unlikely to affect her sentence, because it was for the same act.

Dec. 23, 2021, 2:40 p.m. ETDec. 23, 2021, 2:40 p.m. ET

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs

Reporting from Minneapolis

The judge said she would order that Kimberly Potter immediately be taken to jail, where she would be held without bail until a sentencing hearing. Potter’s lawyers are asking for the judge to instead set bail, saying that Potter feels “overwhelming” remorse. Her lead lawyer, Paul Engh, adds: “It is the Christmas holiday season. She is a devoted Catholic, no less. There is no point to incarcerate her.”

Credit…Court TV, via Associated Press
Dec. 23, 2021, 2:45 p.m. ETDec. 23, 2021, 2:45 p.m. ET

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs

Reporting from Minneapolis

The judge rules that Kimberly Potter will be immediately taken into custody without bail. She will remain in jail until she is sentenced, probably in a few weeks. “I cannot treat this case any differently than any other case,” the judge says.

Dec. 23, 2021, 2:36 p.m. ETDec. 23, 2021, 2:36 p.m. ET

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs

Reporting from Minneapolis

Kimberly Potter looked down as the verdict was read, then held her head up. She did not appear to cry. Two of her lawyers held her shoulders. She looked briefly at the jurors whose decision will probably send her to prison for years.

Dec. 23, 2021, 2:33 p.m. ETDec. 23, 2021, 2:33 p.m. ET

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs

Reporting from Minneapolis

On the first and more serious count, first-degree manslaughter, for killing Daunte Wright, the jury finds Kimberly Potter guilty.

Dec. 23, 2021, 2:33 p.m. ETDec. 23, 2021, 2:33 p.m. ET

Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs

Reporting from Minneapolis

On the second count, second-degree manslaughter, for killing Daunte Wright, the jury finds Kimberly Potter guilty.

Dec. 23, 2021, 2:34 p.m. ETDec. 23, 2021, 2:34 p.m. ET

Timothy Arango

This guilty verdict is likely to surprise many experts who felt a conviction would be tough because the evidence was much more in line with the typical police killing case, in which jurors have historically sided with officers, than the case against Derek Chauvin for murdering George Floyd. Here — unlike in the Chauvin case — the defense argued that had Potter made a split-second decision in a dangerous situation.

Dec. 23, 2021, 2:33 p.m. ETDec. 23, 2021, 2:33 p.m. ET

MINNEAPOLIS — The former police officer who fatally shot a man in a Minneapolis suburb after seeming to mistake her gun for her Taser was convicted of two counts of manslaughter on Tuesday, a rare guilty verdict for a police officer that is likely to send her to prison for years.

The jury of 12 took 27 hours over four days to reach the unanimous guilty verdicts for Kimberly Potter, a 49-year-old white woman who testified that she had never fired her gun on the police force in Brooklyn Center, Minn., until April 11, when she shot a single bullet into the chest of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who had been driving to a carwash.

Kimberly Potter and her lawyers reacting as the verdict was read.Credit…Court TV, via Associated Press

Judge Regina Chu ordered that Ms. Potter be immediately jailed, and deputies led her out of the courtroom in handcuffs as one of her relatives shouted, “Love you, Kim!”

As the verdict was read, Ms. Potter looked down briefly and then glanced at the jurors, but did not appear to cry, as she did when she testified earlier in the trial.

Judge Chu will sentence Ms. Potter at a hearing scheduled for February. The standard sentence range for the more serious charge, first-degree manslaughter, is between about six to eight and a half years in prison, and the maximum penalty is 15 years. Prosecutors have indicated that they will ask the judge to hand down a longer-than-average prison term, and Ms. Potter’s lawyers are likely to ask for a sentencing below the standard range.

Mr. Wright’s parents let out cries in the courtroom as the guilty verdicts were read, and several dozen of Mr. Wright’s supporters celebrated outside of the courthouse in downtown Minneapolis.

Daunte Wright with his son.Credit…Ben Crump Law

Body camera videos from April 11 showed that Mr. Wright had gotten back into the driver’s seat of his car after pulling away from another officer who was trying to handcuff him during a traffic stop. A judge had issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Wright that month after Mr. Wright missed a court date on a gun charge.

In the videos, Ms. Potter is heard shouting that she was going to stun Mr. Wright with her Taser, but she had actually drawn her department-issued Glock. She yelled “Taser! Taser! Taser!” and pulled the trigger. Then, realizing that she had shot him instead, Ms. Potter shouted that she had grabbed the wrong weapon, collapsed to the ground and sobbed as she said she was going to go to prison.

At trial, prosecutors conceded that the shooting was an accident, but they argued that Ms. Potter, who resigned two days after the shooting, had been so reckless that she should be imprisoned.

The shooting took place during the trial of Derek Chauvin, the white former Minneapolis police officer who was ultimately convicted of murdering George Floyd, a Black man whose death led to a huge protest movement and heightened scrutiny of police killings.

Outside the Hennepin County Courthouse after the verdict was announced.Credit…Aaron Nesheim for The New York Times

As the highest-profile trial of a police officer since Mr. Chauvin’s conviction, the Potter trial has been seen by some as a test of whether juries are more likely to convict police officers of crimes after the outcry over Mr. Floyd’s death.

It is rare for police officers to be convicted after claiming to mix up their gun and Taser, and jurors heard from several witnesses who testified that Ms. Potter had been right to try to stun Mr. Wright. Several police officers — including two who were put on the stand by prosecutors — testified that even if Ms. Potter had meant to fire her gun, it would have been justified because another officer was reaching into the passenger side of the car and was at risk of being dragged if Mr. Wright drove off.

The final witness in the trial was Ms. Potter, who sobbed as she described the moments leading up to the shooting and said she was “so sorry” it had happened.

Mr. Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, visiting an ad hoc memorial to her son at the location in Brooklyn Center, Minn., where he was fatally shot by a police officer.Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

She had been riding in a police car with Officer Anthony Luckey, a rookie officer she was training, when Officer Luckey began following Mr. Wright’s white Buick because he noticed that the car had used the wrong turn signal. Officer Luckey noticed that the car had an air freshener hanging from the rearview window, which is against the law in many states, and also had an expired registration sticker.

When Mr. Wright’s car was photographed by investigators after the shooting, a black, tree-shaped air freshener was on the driver’s seat, covered in Mr. Wright’s blood.

Ms. Potter testified that in the moments before the shooting, she had seen the third officer at the scene, Sgt. Mychal Johnson, leaning into the car and that he had “a look of fear on his face.”

In finding Ms. Potter guilty, jurors appeared to find that she had not been justified in using her weapon and that she had knowingly taken a risk of seriously harming Mr. Wright, even if she mistakenly thought she was firing her Taser.

Prosecutors argued that Ms. Potter, in meaning to use her Taser, had consciously risked harming Mr. Wright, because her Police Department’s policies warned against using a Taser on someone who is driving a car. The prosecutors, who work in the office of the Minnesota attorney general, Keith Ellison, also said that Sergeant Johnson had not been at risk of being dragged because only a small part of his body was in the car when Ms. Potter fired.

“Accidents can still be crimes,” a prosecutor, Erin Eldridge, told the jury during closing arguments. She called the killing “a colossal screw-up” and “a blunder of epic proportions.”

The Taser and pistol Ms. Potter carried on April 11, as they were shown in court on Friday.Credit…via Court TV

In the defense’s closing argument, Earl Gray, a lawyer for Ms. Potter, said that Mr. Wright had “caused his own death” by trying to flee from the police. He also said Ms. Potter should not be imprisoned for an accident.

“This lady here made a mistake, and my gosh, a mistake is not a crime,” Mr. Gray said.

Tim Gannon, who was the chief of the Brooklyn Center Police Department until he was forced to resign after the shooting, testified that Ms. Potter had not broken his department’s rules.

Mr. Gannon, who testified for the defense and said he was pushed out for refusing to fire Ms. Potter, said that when he viewed videos of the shooting, he saw “no violation — of policy, procedure or law.”

At least two police officers who were called to testify by prosecutors gave similar responses when they were cross-examined by Ms. Potter’s lawyers, including Sergeant Johnson, who said that he might have been killed if Mr. Wright had driven away and that Ms. Potter had been justified in using her gun.

Protesters demonstrated on the first day of jury selection last month.Credit…Aaron Nesheim for The New York Times

In their closing arguments, Ms. Eldridge argued that the testimony of the police officers was colored by loyalty to Ms. Potter, saying that “when trouble comes, it’s family that supports you unconditionally.”

For a week after the shooting, thousands of people gathered outside of the Brooklyn Center Police Department, grilling and providing groceries to nearby residents by day and throwing water bottles and other objects at a line of police officers come nightfall. The police made hundreds of arrests and fired an array of projectiles, including foam bullets, canisters of smoke and pepper spray that made it difficult to breathe.

During the trial, Ms. Potter’s husband, a retired police officer, sat in the courtroom for much of the proceedings, as did Mr. Wright’s mother, Katie Bryant, who often cried quietly in court as videos of her son’s death were shown to jurors.

On the first day of the trial, Ms. Bryant testified that her son had called her when he was pulled over, but that the line had gone dead seconds before he began to struggle with the police. Ms. Bryant said that she raced to the scene, where she saw a white sheet that covered everything except for her son’s familiar tennis shoes.

Dec. 23, 2021, 2:24 p.m. ETDec. 23, 2021, 2:24 p.m. ET
Daunte Wright with his son.Credit…Ben Crump Law

Daunte Wright has been remembered by friends as upbeat and gregarious, someone who loved to play basketball and was a supportive father to his son, Daunte Jr., who was a year old when Mr. Wright, 20, was killed by a police officer during a traffic stop.

“He always said he couldn’t wait to make his son proud,” Katie Bryant, Mr. Wright’s mother, said at his funeral in April. “Junior was the joy of his life, and he lived for him every single day, and now he’s not going to be able to see him.”

Mr. Wright died on April 11 during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, a Minneapolis suburb, when a police officer, Kimberly Potter, fired a single shot from her handgun, apparently mistaking it for her Taser.

Mr. Wright had been working at a Taco Bell and at a Famous Footwear shoe store shortly before he died, and was considering a career in carpentry, his mother testified in court. She said he had enrolled in the Summit Academy, a vocational school, about two months before he was killed. He had six siblings and was living at his parents’ home with his two younger sisters.

A little over a month after his death, a lawsuit against Mr. Wright’s family raised questions about whether Mr. Wright was involved in a violent dispute in May 2019.

The woman who filed the lawsuit claimed that Mr. Wright had shot her son — a former friend of Mr. Wright’s — in the head in Minneapolis, leaving the man severely disabled, possibly because the man had “beat up” Mr. Wright earlier that month. The lawsuit offers no direct evidence tying Mr. Wright to the shooting, which remains unsolved.

Katie Wright has called the claims in the lawsuit hurtful. “To run with allegations like that is pretty bad, whether they are true or not true,” she told The Star Tribune.

The judge overseeing the trial of Ms. Potter ruled that any “bad acts” committed by Mr. Wright could only be brought up during the trial if it was shown that Ms. Potter knew about the conduct at the time of the traffic stop, so the allegations in the lawsuit were not raised.

People who knew Mr. Wright have acknowledged that he made mistakes, but the said he was trying to improve his life for the sake of his son.

A friend, Emajay Driver, said that Mr. Wright had “loved to make people laugh.” As a freshman in high school, Mr. Wright had been voted a class clown. “There was never a dull moment,” Mr. Driver said.

Delivering a eulogy at Mr. Wright’s funeral, the Rev. Al Sharpton said he was told that Minneapolis had not seen a funeral procession so large since Prince, the musician who was born and raised in Minneapolis, died in 2016.

“You thought he was just some kid with an air freshener,” Mr. Sharpton said, referring to a reason the police cited for pulling him over, an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror. Mr. Sharpton added: “He was a prince, and all of Minneapolis has stopped today to honor the prince of Brooklyn Center.”

Dec. 23, 2021, 1:54 p.m. ETDec. 23, 2021, 1:54 p.m. ET
Officer Kim Potter testifying during her trial on Friday.Credit…Court TV, via Associated Press

A Minnesota jury convicted Kimberly Potter, a former police officer, on two felony manslaughter charges in connection with the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in April.

Prosecutors and Ms. Potter’s lawyers agreed that the shooting was a mistake and that Ms. Potter meant to stun Mr. Wright with her Taser, not shoot him. But they disagreed on how culpable she was in making that mistake.

Ms. Potter, 49, was a police officer with the Brooklyn Center Police Department in the suburbs of Minneapolis for 26 years, until she resigned two days after shooting Mr. Wright. She became a leader in the police union, and she was often assigned to give field training to new officers.

Kimberly PotterCredit…Hennepin County Sheriff, via Associated Press

In questioning witnesses, prosecutors suggested that Ms. Potter was not justified in firing a Taser — let alone her gun — at Mr. Wright because he was in the driver’s seat of a car. Brooklyn Center Police Department policy advises against using a Taser on someone who is operating a car. Ms. Potter’s lawyers argued that Mr. Wright was not operating the car when the shooting took place during a traffic stop, though they also argued that he posed a risk because he was attempting to drive away.

In video of the shooting, a distraught Ms. Potter swears after pulling the trigger on her handgun, and she tells her fellow officers that she grabbed the wrong weapon. Moments later, the video shows, she collapses to the ground, where she sobs and says she is going to go to prison.

“She realizes what has happened, much to her everlasting and unending regret,” Mr. Engh said at the beginning of the trial. “She made a mistake. This was an accident. She’s a human being.”

Ms. Potter’s lawyers argued that she had been justified in trying to stun Mr. Wright and in shooting him, because another officer, Sgt. Mychal Johnson, was leaning into the passenger-side window of Mr. Wright’s car. If Ms. Potter had done nothing, her lawyers asserted, Sergeant Johnson could have been dragged by the car and died.

Ms. Potter’s husband, Jeff, was a police officer in a different Minneapolis suburb until he retired in 2017. They have two adult children.

Dec. 23, 2021, 1:37 p.m. ETDec. 23, 2021, 1:37 p.m. ET
A protester near the Police Department in Brooklyn Center, Minn., in April.Credit…Victor J. Blue for The New York Times

When George Floyd was murdered on a street corner in Minneapolis last year, setting off racial justice protests across the country on a scale not seen in decades, many activists who had fought for years against police brutality were hopeful that the upheaval would prove to be a turning point, moving the country toward more accountability for the police when they kill on the job.

And when Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis officer who kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes, was convicted on two counts of murder in April, the verdicts were hailed as a signal that the criminal justice system was shifting — and that juries, especially, were more willing to hold officers to account.

Yet more than a year and a half after Mr. Floyd was murdered, with another police brutality trial underway in Minnesota — for the killing earlier this year of Daunte Wright — criminal charges against police officers, much less convictions, remain exceedingly rare.

According to data kept by a research team led by Philip M. Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University, 21 officers have been charged this year with murder or manslaughter in connection with an on-duty shooting.

While that figure is an increase from 2020, when 16 officers were charged, and is the highest annual total since Mr. Stinson began tracking the data in 2005, it remains small next to the roughly 1,100 people a year who are killed by the police in America.

“It seems to be business as usual,” Mr. Stinson said. “It’s very, very difficult to make systemic change.”

Despite the protests of 2020 and the sustained public attention on police violence, the overall number of killings has barely budged. So far this year, 960 people have been killed by the police, according to Mapping Police Violence, a nonprofit group that keeps track of police killings. That figure is roughly in line with data the group began collecting in 2013.

Dec. 23, 2021, 1:28 p.m. ETDec. 23, 2021, 1:28 p.m. ET
Erin Eldridge, an assistant attorney general for Minnesota, delivered the prosecution’s closing arguments on Monday.Credit…Court TV, via Associated Press

A decision has been reached in the trial of Kim Potter, the former police officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in April after seeming to mistake her gun for her Taser, and will be announced after 1:30 p.m. Central time.

The 12-member jury will be called upon to deliver its decision once spectators, court officials and the prosecution and defense have assembled in the courtroom on the 18th floor of the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis. The court has said only that “a trial outcome has been reached” and will be read shortly.

The jury began deliberations just before 1 p.m. Central time on Monday, after the two sides made their closing arguments and the judge instructed the jury on the law and how to proceed. They deliberated for more than 27 hours over four days before notifying the judge that they had reached a decision.

The jurors had two counts to consider, one of first-degree manslaughter and one of second-degree manslaughter. They can convict Ms. Potter on either or both of those counts, or convict her of a lesser “included offense” that they found to be proven during the trial, or they can acquit her entirely.

If Ms. Potter is convicted, she will be sentenced by the judge in a later hearing. The jury has no role in sentencing decisions.

Lawyers for Ms. Potter, who was a police officer for 26 years in Brooklyn Center, a Minneapolis suburb, until she resigned just after the shooting, argued that her actions during the traffic stop were justified and that Mr. Wright caused his own death by trying to evade being arrested by other officers at the scene. They said Ms. Potter should not be imprisoned for making a mistake about which weapon she was holding in a fraught and chaotic moment.

Prosecutors, however, argued that Ms. Potter’s handling of her firearm was so reckless, and her use of force so unreasonable, that the shooting was criminal even if accidental. They said that Ms. Potter should have known what she was doing when she shot Mr. Wright in the chest at close range.

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