MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A suburban Minneapolis police officer who said she confused her handgun for her Taser was convicted of manslaughter Thursday in the death of Daunte Wright, prompting tears from the young Black man’s parents and a jubilant celebration by supporters outside the courthouse who chanted “Guilty, guilty, guilty!”
The mostly white jury deliberated for about 27 hours over four days before finding former Brooklyn Center officer Kim Potter guilty of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter. Potter, 49, faces about seven years in prison under the state’s sentencing guidelines, but prosecutors said they would seek a longer term.
Judge Regina Chu ordered Potter taken into custody and held without bail pending sentencing on Feb. 18. Potter had been free on $100,000 bond posted the day last April that she was charged, which was three days after she killed Wright and a day after she quit the police force.
As she was led away in handcuffs, a Potter family member in the courtroom shouted “Love you, Kim!” Potter’s attorneys left the courthouse without commenting and didn’t immediately respond to phone messages or emails.
Outside the courthouse, dozens of people who had gathered erupted in cheers, hugs and tears of joy as the verdicts were read. A New Orleans-style jazz band played “When the Saints Come Marching In.” Two men jumped up and down holding one another’s shoulders, and then other people began jumping up and down and chanting “Guilty, guilty, guilty!”
They chanted “Say his name! Daunte Wright!” Some held yellow signs that said “guilty” in large block letters.
Potter, who testified that she “didn’t want to hurt anybody,” looked down without any visible reaction when the verdicts were read. As Chu thanked the jury, Potter made the sign of the cross.
Potter’s attorneys argued that she should be allowed to remain free until she’s sentenced, saying she wasn’t going to commit another crime or go anywhere.
“It is the Christmas holiday season,” Potter attorney Paul Engh argued. “She’s a devoted Catholic, no less, and there is no point to incarcerate her at this point in time.”
Chu rejected their arguments, though, saying she “cannot treat this case any differently than any other case.”
Potter, who didn’t smile in court, had a big grin on her face in a mug shot taken when she was processed at a women’s prison after the trial.
After Potter was led from the courtroom, prosecutor Erin Eldridge exchanged a long hug with a tearful Katie Bryant, Wright’s mother and a frequent presence at the trial, and with Wright’s father. Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office handled the prosecution, also exchanged hugs with the parents.
It was the second high-profile conviction of a police officer won this year by a team led by Ellison, including some of the same attorneys who helped convict Derek Chauvin in George Floyd’s death in the very same courtroom just eight months earlier.
Outside the courthouse afterward, Ellison said the verdict brought a measure of accountability for Potter but fell short of justice.
“Justice would be restoring Daunte to life and making the Wright family whole again,” Ellison said. “Justice is beyond the reach that we have in this life for Daunte. But accountability is an important step, a critical necessary step on the road to justice for us all.”
Ellison said he felt sympathy for Potter, who has gone from being an “esteemed member to the community” to being convicted of a serious crime.
Wright’s mother hugged Ellison and said the verdicts triggered “every single emotion that you could imagine.”
“Today we have gotten accountability and that’s what we’ve been asking for from the beginning,” Katie Bryant said, crediting supporters for keeping up pressure.
“We love you, we appreciate you, and honestly, we could not have done it without you,” she said.
The time-stamps on the verdicts showed that jurors agreed on the second count on Tuesday, before they asked the judge that afternoon what to do if they were having difficulty agreeing. The guilty verdict on the more serious first-degree count was reached at 11:40 a.m. Thursday.
Potter, who is white, shot and killed the 20-year-old Wright during an April 11 traffic stop in Brooklyn Center as she and other officers were trying to arrest him on an outstanding warrant for a weapons possession charge. The shooting happened at a time of high tension in the area, with Chauvin standing trial in nearby Minneapolis for Floyd’s death.
Jurors saw video of the shooting from police body cameras and dashcams. As Wright pulled away while another officer attempted to handcuff him, Potter repeatedly said she would tase him before she drew her handgun and shot him once in his chest.
“(Expletive)! I just shot him. … I grabbed the wrong (expletive) gun,” Potter said on video shown to the jury. A minute later, she said: “I’m going to go to prison.”
During her sometimes tearful testimony, Potter told jurors that she was “sorry it happened.” She said the traffic stop “just went chaotic.”
The maximum prison sentence for 1st-degree manslaughter is 15 years. Minnesota law sentences defendants only on their most serious conviction when multiple counts involve the same act and the same victim, and state guidelines call for about 7 years on that charge.
Prosecutors have said they would seek to prove aggravating factors that merit what’s called an upward departure from sentencing guidelines. In Potter’s case, they alleged that her actions were a danger to others, including her fellow officers, to Wright’s passenger and to the couple whose car was struck by Wright’s after the shooting. They also alleged she abused her authority as a police officer.
For first-degree manslaughter, prosecutors had to prove that Potter caused Wright’s death while committing a misdemeanor — in this case, the “reckless handling or use of a firearm so as to endanger the safety of another with such force and violence that death or great bodily harm to any person was reasonably foreseeable.”
The second-degree manslaughter charge required prosecutors to prove that Potter caused Wright’s death “by her culpable negligence,” meaning she “caused an unreasonable risk and consciously took a chance of causing death or great bodily harm” to Wright while using or possessing a firearm.