U.S.

Jurors Weigh Charges Against Kimberly Potter for Killing Daunte Wright

MINNEAPOLIS — Twelve jurors began weighing manslaughter charges on Monday against Kimberly Potter, who fatally shot a man during a traffic stop in a Minneapolis suburb while seeming to think she was using her Taser.

They began deliberating after hearing closing arguments from prosecutors and from lawyers for Ms. Potter, a white officer who resigned from the Brooklyn Center Police Department after killing Mr. Wright, a Black man who had been driving to a carwash.

The jurors discussed the case for about five hours without reaching a verdict. They will be sequestered until they decide the case, likely staying in a hotel and returning to the courthouse in Minneapolis on Tuesday to continue deliberations.

In closing arguments, Earl Gray, Ms. Potter’s lead lawyer, said his client should not be sent to prison for a shooting that prosecutors concede was a mistake. He argued that Mr. Wright had “caused his own death” by trying to flee from the police.

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

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Lawyer for Kimberly Potter: Daunte Wright ‘Caused His Own Death’

The lead defense lawyer urged jurors to acquit Kimberly Potter on both of the manslaughter charges she faces for the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, arguing that “a mistake is not a crime.”

Did they prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she caused this death? No. Daunte Wright caused his own death, unfortunately. Those are the cold, hard facts of the evidence. There’s two absolute reasons why she’s not guilty. Absolute. She didn’t cause this, and she had a right to use deadly force. How can you recklessly, consciously handle a gun if you don’t know you have it? If, because of the exigent circumstances, the emergency, whatever it was, the mistake, it’s totally believable, totally true that she didn’t know she had her gun. Nobody’s perfect. Everybody makes mistakes. And some of those mistakes are small mistakes, but some of them are very serious. And this lady here made a mistake. And my gosh, a mistake is not a crime.

The lead defense lawyer urged jurors to acquit Kimberly Potter on both of the manslaughter charges she faces for the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, arguing that “a mistake is not a crime.”CreditCredit…Court TV, via Associated Press

Erin Eldridge, a prosecutor, told jurors that they should find Ms. Potter guilty of the two charges she faces — first-degree and second-degree manslaughter —  because she acted recklessly and violated her training by mixing up her Taser and her gun, costing Mr. Wright, 20, his life.

“Accidents can still be crimes,” Ms. Eldridge said. She added, “This was a colossal screw-up, a blunder of epic proportions.”

If the jury convicts Ms. Potter on either manslaughter count, a judge would probably sentence her to several years in prison, and possibly a decade or longer.

Before closing arguments on Monday, Judge Regina Chu read instructions to the jury on the two charges. Parts of the instructions that deal with Ms. Potter’s knowledge of what she was doing could prove crucial in the case because prosecutors and defense lawyers differed sharply in their closing arguments over whether her mistake amounted to a crime.

Judge Chu said that in order to convict Ms. Potter of first-degree manslaughter, jurors would have to find that she had committed “a conscious or intentional act” regarding her handling of a gun that created a risk that she was aware of and disregarded. To convict on second-degree manslaughter, the judge said jurors had to find that Ms. Potter had consciously taken a chance of causing great bodily harm.

Daunte Wright was killed during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minn.Credit…Nicole Neri/Reuters

Nine of the jurors deciding the case are white, two are Asian and one is Black. The jury is evenly divided between men and women, and their ages range from the 20s to the 60s.

The jurors began discussing the case just before 1 p.m. Central time on Monday, after hearing testimony from 33 witnesses over nearly two weeks.

The final witness was Ms. Potter, 49, who broke down in sobs several times on the witness stand as she described the moments before the shooting. She said she had seen fear in another officer’s face and had never meant to hurt anyone. “I’m sorry it happened,” she said. “I’m so sorry.”

Understand the Killing of Daunte Wright


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The trial. Kimberly Potter, a former Minnesota police officer, is facing manslaughter charges after she appeared to mistake her gun for a Taser and fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in April. Here’s what to know about the case:

The shooting. As Mr. Wright broke free from another officer who was trying to handcuff him, Ms. Potter called out a warning, suggesting that she was using her Taser, and fired a single shot, killing Mr. Wright.

The reaction. ​​The shooting took place in Brooklyn Center, Minn., amid the trial of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd. The killing of Mr. Wright, who was Black, by Ms. Potter, who is white, drew thousands of demonstrators to the Brooklyn Center Police Department for a week.

The charges. Ms. Potter faces two felony charges: first-degree manslaughter and second-degree manslaughter. Neither charge suggests that she intended to kill Mr. Wright. A conviction on either charge would probably send her to prison for several years, at least.

Taser vs. gun. How could Ms. Potter, a 26-year veteran of the force, mistake a gun for a Taser? While not common, there have been similar instances. In 15 other cases over the past 20 years reviewed by The Times, three officers were convicted.

Ms. Potter was training a rookie officer, Anthony Luckey, on April 11 when Officer Luckey decided to pull over Mr. Wright’s car after seeing an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror, which is against the law in Minnesota and many other states. He also noted that the car’s registration sticker was expired.

When the officers ran Mr. Wright’s name through their computer, they discovered that a judge had recently issued an arrest warrant for Mr. Wright after he missed a court date related to charges that he had illegally carried a pistol and had run away from Minneapolis police officers in June 2020.

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Prosecutor in Kimberly Potter Trial: ‘This Was a Colossal Screw-Up’

The prosecutor emphasized in her closing arguments that Kimberly Potter, a former police officer, was criminally reckless when she fatally shot Daunte Wright.

This case is about the defendant’s rash and reckless conduct. It’s not about her being a nice person or a good person. Even nice people have to obey the law. Carrying a badge and a gun is not a license to kill. You don’t get to shoot someone when things don’t go according to plan. An ordinary and prudent person would not have drawn a weapon, held it for more than five to six seconds, aimed it and pulled the trigger, all without recognizing or confirming what was in their hand. Members of the jury, this was no little oopsie. This was not putting the wrong, wrong date on a check. This was not entering the wrong password somewhere. This was a colossal screw-up, a blunder of epic proportions. It was precisely the thing she had been warned about for years, and she was trained to prevent it. It was irreversible and it was fatal. Now, the defense may refer to this as an unfortunate mistake or a tragic accident, or that because the defendant didn’t know or didn’t realize that she had a gun in her hand, that this is somehow an accident and not a crime. That is simply not the case. It’s just plain wrong. Accidents can still be crimes if they occur as the result of recklessness or culpable negligence.

The prosecutor emphasized in her closing arguments that Kimberly Potter, a former police officer, was criminally reckless when she fatally shot Daunte Wright.CreditCredit…via Court Tv

On the roadside in Brooklyn Center, the officers asked Mr. Wright to step out of his car. But when Officer Luckey went to handcuff him, Mr. Wright pulled away and got back into the driver’s seat, where he struggled with Officer Luckey and a sergeant who had been called to the scene.

Police body cameras recorded Ms. Potter shouting “Taser! Taser! Taser!” immediately before firing a fatal bullet from her Glock handgun. Mr. Wright, mortally wounded, said “ah, he shot me,” and his car lurched forward, crashing into an oncoming car a short way down the block. He was pronounced dead at the scene. In the videos, Ms. Potter is heard saying that she had drawn the wrong weapon and is seen collapsing to the ground. “What have I done?” she asks at one point.

The killing of Mr. Wright, a father who had recently been working at a shoe store, happened while the trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis officer who was later convicted of murdering George Floyd, was in progress. It set off several nights of intense protests in Brooklyn Center, during which the police arrested hundreds of people.

Criminal charges against police officers who kill while on duty remain rare, and convictions even more so.

Instances of “weapons confusion” have also been rare. Even so, in the last two decades, at least three officers have been convicted in cases where they said they had confused a gun with a Taser, including two cases in which the person they shot died.

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