Jury finds Brooklyn Center Officer Kimberly Potter guilty of manslaughter

By: - December 23, 2021 1:39 pm

Daunte Wright’s brother, Damik Wright (center), rejoices outside the Hennepin County Government Center where a jury found former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter guilty on two manslaughter charges on Dec. 23, 2021. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

After nearly two weeks of testimony and about 27 hours of deliberations, a 12-member jury found Kimberly Potter guilty of both first- and second-degree manslaughter for shooting and killing 20-year-old Daunte Wright during an April 11 traffic stop in Brooklyn Center.

As Potter closed her eyes for a few moments in anticipation, the jury filed into the courtroom to announce its decision. Potter reacted with stoicism, and did not break down as she did on the scene and while testifying, but fidgeted with some kind of necklace before handing it to an attorney.

Wright’s mother, Katie, broke down sobbing in the courtroom as her husband Arbuey comforted her, according to one of two reporters allowed in the courtroom. 

Potter — who had been free on $100,000 — was taken into custody immediately and held without bail. As she was handcuffed and taken out of the courtroom by sheriff’s deputies, her husband, retired police officer Jeff Potter, said loudly, “I love you, Kim,” to which Potter replied, “I love you too.”

As Judge Regina Chu thanked the jurors for their service — calling them heroes for doing their civic duty on a tough case during a pandemic — one of the jurors began crying, and cried and shook as the jury stood up to leave the courtroom, according to a pool reporter.

She will be sentenced at 9 a.m. on Feb. 18. Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines call for seven years for first-degree manslaughter and four years for second-degree manslaughter, but prosecutors have said they would seek a longer sentence. 

A crowd outside the courthouse erupted when the verdict came out, with grown men bursting into tears.

Daunte’s brother Damik Wright told the crowd the verdict was a sign that “change is coming.”

“We’re happy with the verdict and we’re happy with everything and excuse my language but we’re gonna let that b**** rot in hell.”

Daunte Wright’s father, Arbuey Wright, speaks to a crowd gathered outside the courthouse where former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter was convicted of two counts of manslaughter Thursday in connection with the killing of Daunte Wright on April 11. Photo by Max Nesterak

Later, Daunte’s mother, Katie, said the guilty verdict will ensure police don’t pull their guns instead of Tasers.

“Today we have gotten accountability. That’s what we’ve been asking for from the beginning all the way up until today.”

“We love you, we appreciate you, and honestly, we could not have done it without you,” she told the crowd. Daunte’s father, Arbuey, also thanked people for their support to help them get through nights when they didn’t think they could make it.

During a press conference, Attorney General Keith Ellison asked people to reflect on what Wright could have been.

“He had his whole life in front of him, and he could have become anyone,” he said.

He also reminded people that while Potter will still be able to correspond with her family from prison, the Wrights will never see Daunte again.

“We have a degree of accountability for Daunte’s death,” Ellison said. “Accountability is not justice. Justice is restoration. Justice would be restoring Daunte to life and making the Wright family whole again. 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 his thoughts were also with Potter, who went 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.”

He also said his thoughts were with law enforcement.

“We hold you in high regard. And we also hold you to high standards. We don’t want you to be discouraged. Your community respects and appreciates you. We want you to uphold the highest ideals of our society and ideals of safety. And when a member of your profession is held accountable, it does not diminish you. In fact, it shows it shows the whole world that those of you who enforce the law are also willing to live by it. And that’s a good thing. It restores trust, faith in hope.”

George Floyd’s girlfriend, Courteney Ross, was in the crowd. Wright was a student while she a dean at Edison High School in Minneapolis. Ross said she knew Potter would be convicted, because “Floyd’s spirit” told her.

“I’m relieved,” she said. “They did the right thing.”

The charges

To convict Potter of first-degree manslaughter, prosecutors had to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Potter caused Wright’s death while recklessly handling her firearm — which was defined as consciously, intentionally creating a substantial, unjustifiable risk that she was aware of and disregarded.  

On the second-degree manslaughter charge, prosecutors had to prove she caused Wright’s death with culpable negligence, by creating an unreasonable risk and consciously taking a chance of causing death or great bodily harm to Wright.

Prosecutors did not have to prove Potter intended to cause Wright’s death, but had to prove each element of the crime beyond reasonable doubt.

Under state law, officers can use deadly force to make an arrest, enforce a court order or prevent the escape of someone they believe has committed a felony or who threatened the use of deadly force. The officer’s actions must be deemed reasonable in the moment they act, not with the benefit of hindsight, taking into consideration that police must make split-second decisions during rapidly evolving situations.

This is why the defense spent considerable time on Potter’s contention that she saw a look of fear on her sergeant’s face as he tried to stop Wright from taking off in the car. Potter said she used what she thought was her Taser to prevent Wright from dragging then-Sgt. Mychal Johnson with his car. But the defense argued she was justified in using her firearm, too.

Her attorneys argued if Wright had just surrendered, he would be alive today, blaming Wright for causing his own death.

Both the prosecution and defense agreed Potter accidentally drew her gun instead of her Taser, but prosecutors argued she recklessly and negligently handled her gun and failed at her primary duty — to protect the sanctity of life — and violated many years of training.

“We trust them to know wrong from right, and left from right,” Assistant Attorney General Erin Eldridge told the jury.

Kimberly Potter as the verdict was read Thursday finding her guilty of two counts of manslaughter in the shooting death of Daunte Wright.

The background

The shooting happened after Potter and a police trainee, Officer Anthony Luckey, pulled Wright over after Luckey noticed a car in the left turning lane with its blinker signaling a right turn. Then he noticed the car had an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror — which is technically illegal — and expired registration tabs. 

Potter testified that she probably wouldn’t have even pulled the car over if she were alone, but Luckey, who is Black, wanted to. After getting Wright’s name and date of birth, Luckey ran the information through police databases and learned there was a warrant for Wright’s arrest in connection with a gun violation, as well as a protection order.

When they and their sergeant, Johnson, tried to arrest Wright, he darted back into his car, prompting Luckey and Johnson to struggle to restrain him as Potter warned she would tase him. After several warnings, Potter fired her gun, not her Taser, and hit Wright in the chest, hitting his heart and lungs and killing him within seconds to minutes, according to the medical examiner.

“You shot me!” Wright said before taking off in the car with his passenger.

Potter realized the fatal mistake she’d made, saying “I just shot him!,” and collapsed on the side of the road, saying “Oh my God” over and over. 

She took the stand on the final day of testimony, trying to explain how, after a 26-year career in which she’d never gotten a citizen complaint or fired her gun or deployed her Taser, she accidentally shot Wright.

She said her sergeant, who was on the other side of the car reaching in to keep Wright from driving away, had a “look of fear on his face” that was “nothing I’ve seen before.” 

Potter sobbed on the stand under intense questioning by Eldridge.

“I’m sorry it happened,” Potter said. “I’m so sorry.”

The vibe

Downtown Minneapolis was quiet Thursday, with a more business-as-usual vibe as the city braced for the verdict in a case that sparked protests and looting last spring.

Wright was shot by Potter on a Sunday afternoon as Derek Chauvin’s trial was winding down, renewing calls for police reform and reigniting protests over police brutality against Black people in the small suburban city north of Minneapolis.  

Potter went on trial in the same courtroom as Chauvin, but unlike during Chauvin’s trial, few skyscrapers and businesses were boarded up to guard against vandalism. The police presence was much less noticeable, and security at the courthouse was much more lax. 

During Chauvin’s trial, a fortress was constructed around city hall and the Hennepin County Government Center, with concrete barriers, barbed wire fencing and coils of razor wire. Barriers were also erected around each of the city’s five police precincts and a downtown building temporarily serving as the Third Precinct, which was destroyed during riots after Floyd’s killing.

None of that was done for this trial, although the government center was closed to visitors Thursday afternoon to prepare for the verdict.

About an hour after the verdict was read, the scene turned jubilant, with music being played and a party-like atmosphere taking over on the frozen lawn outside the courthouse.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.