After four days of deliberations, a jury in Minneapolis yesterday found former police officer Kimberly Potter guilty of two counts of manslaughter in the April 11 killing of Daunte Wright. Potter fatally shot Wright during a traffic stop when she fired her gun into Wright's chest, apparently mistaking the two-pound Glock for the far lighter Taser she carried on her non-dominant side. NBC News explains Potter was found guilty of two separate types of manslaughter:
The Hennepin County panel found Potter guilty of first-degree manslaughter, meaning she improperly used “such force and violence that death of or great bodily harm to any person was reasonably foreseeable.”
Jurors also found the white former officer guilty of second-degree manslaughter charge, which only required a finding of “culpable negligence” that created “unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another.”
Potter will face up to 15 years in prison once she's sentenced in February. Her killing of Wright was the first time she'd fired her gun in her 26-year police career. She resigned from the Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, police force two days after the shooting, which coincidentally occurred during the trial of Derek Chauvin for murdering George Floyd in 2020.
unusual for police officers to be convicted after claiming to mix up a 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 — suggested in their testimony 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 jury in Potter's trial didn't find those arguments convincing, and good for them.
Daunte Wright's mother, Katie Bryant, told supporters outside the courthouse that the verdict was at least a small bit of justice, although we wish we could share her confidence that Potter's conviction means that "police officers are not going to continue to pull their gun instead of their Taser." We do hope that it will at least cause some officers to make sure they're holding their bright yellow Taser, which has a light on it, instead of their service handgun. Court TV helpfully illustrated that Potter's Taser and Glock are actually quite different devices.
Perhaps Tasers need to have a loud voice chip that says "Taser! Taser!" so cops can be trained to look at what's in their hand if they mean to use nonlethal force but don't hear the sound. Just spitballing there, since a popup menu saying "Hi! You're holding your gun! Do you intend to kill someone?" might be unworkable for the other weapon.
In body camera videos of the shooting, Wright can be seen twisting out of the grip of an officer who was trying to handcuff him, and getting back in his car and trying to drive off. As Yr Wonkette has noted, yes, it was a stupid, panicky reaction, but Minnesota does not have a death penalty, not even for first-degree murder, let alone resisting arrest.
In the videos, Potter can be heard threatening Wright, "I'll Tase you!" moments before she shouts "Taser! Taser! Taser!" and fires a single shot from the Glock, killing Wright. She then exclaims "Holy shit, I shot him!" and begins crying, saying she would go to prison.
The Times notes that prosecutors conceded that Potter had shot Wright accidentally, but argued that her actions had been so reckless that she had committed a crime, as she apparently realized as soon as she'd killed Wright. It was a horrible mistake, but the people we empower to use deadly force are supposed to have such a high degree of training that they don't make such horrible mistakes. When they do, they have to be held accountable.
Again, from the Times:
“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.”
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.
It's a relief to see that, at least in this case, the jury didn't buy the suggestion that running from police is a capital crime.
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