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Kim Potter found guilty of manslaughter for killing Daunte Wright

The former Minnesota police officer faces up to 15 years in prison for fatally shooting the Black motorist.

MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — Former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter has been found guilty of first- and second-degree manslaughter for the shooting of Daunte Wright in April.

The jury reached its verdict after more than 25 total hours of deliberations. Potter faces a possible maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, but she is unlikely to serve a term that long. Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines require shorter sentences for defendants with no prior criminal convictions.

Following the verdict, Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu ordered that Potter be taken into custody and held without bail. Her defense attorneys Paul Engh and Early Gray took issue with that requirement, arguing that Potter’s circumstances warranted lighter treatment. 

“Her remorse and regret for the incident is overwhelming, she’s not a danger to the public whatsoever, she’s made all her court appearances,” Engh said. “It is the Christmas holiday season, she is a devoted Catholic, no less, and there is no point to incarcerate her at this point in time.” 

Gray concurred: “She’s not going to run. She’s obviously not going to commit any more crimes. She’s been convicted of an accident. She’s been convicted of being reckless.”

Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank took issue with their request.

“The convictions here are…very serious charges. It’s typical, after a guilty verdict, to be taken into custody,” the prosecutor said, noting that Potter was also living out of state.

Chu ultimately stood by her order. “I recognize your arguments, Mr. Engh and Mr. Gray, but I cannot treat this case like any other case,” the judge said.

Potter’s sentencing is tentatively set for Feb. 18. 

The verdict garnered widely divergent responses from onlookers. In the courtroom, someone shouted “love you, Kim” as Potter stood to leave. Outside, meanwhile, protesters cheered Wright’s name and that of Kobe Dimock-Heisler, another Black man shot and killed by Brooklyn Center police in 2019. 

Potter, a white woman, has maintained ever since the shooting that she intended to deploy her Taser stun gun rather than to fire her firearm. Wright, a 20-year-old Black man and native of the northern Minneapolis suburb, was stopped with his girlfriend for an equipment violation and expired tabs before officers attempted to detain him on a misdemeanor firearms warrant.

Wright died on the scene, and his car crashed into an elderly couple’s car down the street. Wright’s death, which a medical examiner attributed to the shooting, sparked protests and riots in a Twin Cities metro already on edge during the murder trial of Derek Chauvin.

Daunte Wright and his son, Daunte Jr., at his first birthday party. (Ben Crump Law, PLLC. via AP)

Defense attorneys for Potter have argued that she would have been authorized to use deadly force against Wright to protect Sergeant Mychal Johnson, who had clambered into Wright’s car in an effort to stop him from fleeing. Prosecutors, meanwhile, contended at trial that Johnson was not in the car at the time of the shooting and that he could have been hit by Potter’s shot had Wright not been hit first.

The 14-day trial has been televised and livestreamed, and is only the second trial in Minnesota’s history to be livestreamed. Chauvin’s was the first.

Prosecutors with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office had to prove that Potter handled her firearm recklessly in shooting Wright in order to sustain their first-degree manslaughter charge, and to show culpable negligence to sustain the second-degree charge. They also had to overcome the defense’s contention that Potter’s use of deadly force was lawful.

Potter’s attorneys made that case by pointing to Johnson’s statements on the scene that Wright was about to drive away with him. Prosecutors, in response, pointed to Potter’s own on-scene statements: “I’m going to prison. I killed a boy.”

Ellison held a press conference with Wright’s family following the verdict. He asked media and onlookers to reflect on Wright’s life. “He could have become anyone. All of us miss out on who Daunte could have been,” he said.

He congratulated and thanked jurors and the prosecution team, but his tone was somewhat grave.

“Accountability is not justice. Justice is restoration,” the attorney general said. “Justice would be restoring Daunte to life and making the Wright family whole again. Justice is beyond reach that we have, in this life, for Daunte. But accountability is an important step, an important, necessary step.”

Ellison also expressed sympathy for Potter.

“She has gone from being an esteemed member of the community, an honored member of a noble profession, to being convicted of a serious crime. I don’t wish that on anyone,” he said. “But it was our responsibility as the prosecution, as ministers of justice, to pursue justice wherever it led, and the jury found the facts.”

The former officer testified in her own defense on Friday, serving as her defense team’s last witness. She was emotional on the stand, frequently breaking out into tears and at one point saying she was “sorry it happened.”

Asked about that testimony, Ellison did not doubt Potter’s sincerity but again stressed the stakes of the case.

“I think it’s a good sign that she was remorseful. I mean, what decent person wouldn’t be brokenhearted and sad if they were involved in something like this?” he said. “I wish nothing but the best for her and her family. But the truth is, she will be able to correspond with them and to sit with them, and no matter what happens, the Wrights won’t be able to talk to Daunte.” 

Wright’s mother Katie Bryant and father Aubrey Wright spoke briefly to reporters but were more loquacious for protesters outside the courthouse.

“Today Minnesota has shown the police officers are not going to continue to pull their gun instead of their Taser,” Bryant said. “We made this happen, you made this happen, Daunte Wright made this happen, and we’re going to continue to say his name, along with so many other names, until we don’t have to say any more names.”

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