Ex-Minnesota police officer guilty of manslaughter in shooting of Daunte Wright

People outside the Minneapolis courthouse after a jury convicted former police officer Kimberly Potter of two counts of manslaughter. Photograph: New York Times


A Minnesota jury on Thursday found former police officer Kimberly Potter guilty of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of black motorist Daunte Wright during a traffic stop at which she mistakenly discharged her handgun instead of her Taser.

A 12-member jury declared Potter (49) guilty of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter in the death of the 20-year-old Wright, whom she killed in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center on April 11th with a bullet to the chest.

Potter, who broke down last week on the stand as she testified to her remorse for the shooting, showed little emotion as Judge Regina Chu read the verdict and polled the jury. Potter was taken away in handcuffs after the judge rejected her attorney’s plea for her to be allowed to spend Christmas with family.

“I am going to require that she be taken into custody and held without bail,” said the judge. “I cannot treat this case any differently than any other case.”

Potter faces sentencing on February 18th. The first- and second-degree manslaughter charges carry maximum sentences of 15 and 10 years respectively.

The shooting sparked multiple nights of intense demonstrations in Brooklyn Center. It happened just a few miles north of where Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was at the same time standing trial for killing George Floyd, whose 2020 death during an arrest had set off protests in US cities over racism and police brutality.

Chauvin was convicted of murder. Both he and Potter are white.

Caught on Potter’s body-worn camera, the basic facts of the incident were for the most part not in dispute. Prosecutors and the defence attorneys agreed that Potter mistakenly drew the wrong weapon and never meant to kill Wright.

At issue was whether the jury would find her actions to be reckless in violation of the state’s manslaughter statutes, or chalk up the incident to a dreadful mistake that did not warrant criminal liability.

The jury, which agreed on the lesser charge on Tuesday and took two additional days to reach consensus on first-degree manslaughter, went against the expectations of some legal experts who predicted an acquittal or deadlock resulting in mistrial.

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump and two other lawyers for the Wright family expressed relief at the verdict, saying it brought a measure of accountability for an “unnecessary and overreaching tragic traffic stop” that led to Wright’s death.

Potter expresses regret

Throughout the trial, prosecutors stressed Potter’s 26 years as a police officer, a level of experience they said made her mistake unacceptable. They said she disregarded her training, which included Taser-specific courses in the months before the shooting, and took a conscious and unreasonable risk in using any weapon against the unarmed Wright.

Potter’s attorneys sought to blame Wright for resisting arrest, which they argued had created a dangerous situation and justified her use of force. While acknowledging her mistake, they said her actions were not criminal because she thought she was using her Taser and was unaware she had drawn her handgun.

“Her remorse and regret for the incident is overwhelming,” said Paul Engh, one of her attorneys. He also told the judge, in arguing for her to be allowed out on bail until sentencing, “she’s not a danger to the public whatsoever”. – Reuters