Kim Potter, the ex-cop convicted in Daunte Wright's death, will be sentenced Friday
A judge will decide Friday whether former police officer Kim Potter will face prison time after being convicted of manslaughterin the death of Daunte Wright. Potter, who apparently mistook her handgun for her Taser when she fatally shot the 20-year-old Black man last year during a traffic stop, was convicted of first- and second-degree manslaughter in a trial in December. Defense lawyers representing Potter have urged the judge to consider probation instead of prison time, or a prison sentence shorter than what Minnesota's sentencing guidelines recommend — roughly 7 years for first-degree manslaughter. Prosecutors, led by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, said the recommended sentence is "proper" and "reflects the seriousness of the loss of" Wright's life. "The sanctity of Daunte Wright's life deserved the protection of the law like any other person," they wrote in a court filing this month. But prosecutors also acknowledged that Potter, who served 26 years as a police officer and has no prior criminal record, is unlikely to be a repeat offender. Her conviction already ensures that she can no longer work as an officer or carry a gun. Because of that, prosecutors offered an alternate recommendation for Judge Regina Chu to consider: Sentence Potter to serve one year in jail "to reflect the seriousness of Daunte Wright's death," along with 10 years of probation during which she speaks to law enforcement agencies about the danger of weapons confusion. The sentencing hearing, overseen by Chu, is set to begin Friday morning in Minneapolis.
Defense lawyers reference Rodney King in arguing for a lighter sentence
In a pair of court filings last month, Potter's lawyers cited her "age, her exemplary career [and] her crime-free life" as reasons she should receive leniency. Potter is at no risk of recidivism, her lawyers said, writing that she "expressed remorse and apologized to Mr. Wright's family from the stand, and will again at sentencing." Potter would be a "walking target" in prison, they wrote. And a prison sentence for her could exacerbate staffing issues at the Minneapolis Police Department by discouraging potential applicants, they suggested. In arguing for a lesser prison sentence, Potter's lawyers claimed that Wright's behavior had essentially provoked Potter into committing manslaughter. At the time of the traffic stop, Wright had a warrant for his arrest on a gun-related charge, and he was trying to escape arrest when Potter shot him. "Without Mr. Wright's violent and aggressive resistence [sic], nothing would have happened. All Mr. Wright had to do was stop, obey lawful commands, and he'd be alive," her lawyers wrote. Potter's lawyers cited a series of cases in which judges had reached similar conclusions and levied lighter sentences — including that of Rodney King, the Black man beaten by Los Angeles police officers in 1991. In that case, two officers who had been previously acquitted of state charges were later found guilty by a different jury in a federal civil rights trial. During the sentencing hearing, the judge cited King's alcohol consumption and "combative" behavior alongside the officers' careers and family lives. He then sentenced the officers to 30 months in prison, far less than what prosecutors had urged. The controversial sentence was later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. Potter's prosecutors called the reference to the King beating a matter of "poor taste and judgment," and they disputed that Wright had behaved combatively or aggressively. "He simply tried to get in the driver's seat and drive off," they wrote.
The fatal traffic stop and manslaughter conviction
Kim Potter, then a 26-year veteran of the police force in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center, Minn., was training a new officer on the afternoon of April 11, 2021. Together, the pair pulled over Wright after noticing expired tabs on his license plate and an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror. After a polite initial conversation, the officers discovered a warrant for Wright's arrest stemming from a gun charge. They decided to arrest him. Video footage from body cameras and the squad car dashcam showed that Wright was initially cooperative, but as he was being handcuffed, he pulled away and ducked back inside his car. In the chaotic few seconds that followed, Potter drew her handgun and shouted "I'll tase you!" and "Taser! Taser! Taser!" before shooting a single bullet into Wright's chest, killing him. Immediately afterward, she appeared shocked and said that she had "grabbed the wrong f***ing gun."In the trial last December, lawyers for both sides agreed that she had intended to draw her Taser, not her handgun. But prosecutors convinced the jury that her mistake was so reckless that it was criminal. After several days of deliberation, the jury unanimously convicted her on both of the two manslaughter counts she faced. Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.