A Minnesota judge on Friday handed down an extra lenient prison sentence to a former police officer convicted of manslaughter for killing an unarmed Black motorist after purportedly confusing a Taser for a gun in suburban Minneapolis.
Kim Potter was sentenced to 24 months in prison for killing 20-year-old Daunte Wright last year following a pretextual traffic stop in the city of Brooklyn Center that turned deadly after police failed to de-escalate the confrontation. Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu said Potter will be required to serve just 16 months with the remaining eight months served on supervised release, or probation.
The 49-year-old former Brooklyn Center officer was facing up to 25 years in prison after a jury in December found her guilty of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter. First-degree manslaughter is a felony that is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine as high as $30,000. Second-degree manslaughter is also a felony with a possible prison sentence of up to 10 years and a maximum fine of $20,000.
Prosecutors had recommended more than seven years in prison for Potter, whose smiling mugshot following her conviction belied the alleged teary remorse she expressed on the witness stand during her trial.
The attorneys who represented Wright’s family reacted with disappointment to the lenient sentence.
“Today’s sentencing of Kim Potter leaves the family of Daunte Wright completely stunned. While there is a small sense of justice because she will serve nominal time, the family is also deeply disappointed there was not a greater level of accountability,” Ben Crump, Antonio Romanucci and Jeff Storms said in a statement emailed to NewsOne.”
They said they would continue to fight for justice for Daunte Wright.
After the sentencing, Daunte Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, said Kim Potter “murdered” her son. “Today, the justice system murdered him all over again.”
“I feel cheated,” Aubrey Wright, Daunte’s father, said before adding” they were so tied up in her feelings that they forgot my son was killed. …. I feel like we were tricked. We actually thought we were going to get a little justice. … But now, I walk out of this courthouse feeling like people are laughing at us because [Potter] got a slap on the wrist.”
Daunte Wright’s parents were among the family members who delivered their victim impact statements ahead of Potter’s sentencing, with each person calling for the former cop to be given the maximum sentence possible.
Wright’s mother said she would never be able to forgive Potter for killing her son and the decided lack of sympathy displayed.
Potter’s lawyer subsequently argued that she should be given probation because of how harmful being in jail would be for her. Not only does her former employment as a member of law enforcement decrease her chances of staying safe in prison, the lawyer said, but incarceration has already had an adverse reaction on the ex-cop’s mental health.
Wright was shot and killed on April 11, 2021. His death came during the murder trial for Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer found guilty and convicted for killing George Floyd last year.
Wright was also pulled over in what is often described as a pretextual traffic stop — when cops use minor violations to pull over disproportionately Black and brown motorists as a means to investigate them for other possible offenses. He was allegedly guilty of having too many items hanging from his rearview mirror.
But after Wright was pulled over, it was determined he was driving a car with expired registration tags. Potter was standing next to the car when officers asked Wright to exit the car so he could be handcuffed for the offense. But when Wright jerked away and attempted to get back in the car, Potter grabbed her gun and shot him to death. She yelled “Taser!” but fired her service weapon, killing Wright.
Potter was a 26-year veteran of the force and was trained to know the difference between a Taser and a firearm. Ironically, the former officer who also served on the negotiation team failed to offer any semblance of negotiation with Wright and instead was his judge, jury and executioner.
She was hired as a Brooklyn Center police officer in 1995, five years before Wright was born. In 2019, she was elected president of the Brooklyn Center Police Officer’s Association.
Brooklyn Center police authorities released footage of the event, where Potter can be heard saying, “Holy shit, I shot him,” moments after firing her gun. At the time, Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon defended the shooting as an “accidental discharge.”
During her trial, Potter took the stand to testify in her own defense and at first appeared relatively stoic as her lawyer questioned her. But when the topic turned to the fateful traffic stop, Potter’s countenance began to display an increasing amount of emotion that ultimately [d]evolved into a full-blown, wrinkled up crying face, complete with her reaching for tissue paper using it to cover her face bowed forward.
Potter kept up the crying face while sobbing and weeping through her testimony.
However, there was one glaring omission from Potter’s emotional testimony: While she was audibly sobbing and using tissue for her face, there weren’t actually any tears coming out of her eyes. Potter kept speaking through gasps, sobs and weeps while her lawyer lobbed softball questions at her.
But when it came time for cross-examination, Potter’s face reverted to the previous version that was absent of any apparent remorse. Instead, while the prosecution questioned her, Potter responded with curt, one-word answers in apparent resentment.
Not only did Potter refuse to even try to humanize Wright — she would only refer to him as “the driver” — but the prosecution got her to admit on several occasions that shooting him violated department protocol (the law says that a gross warrant, for which Wright was being arrested, doesn’t call for a pursuit) and never properly prepared her equipment. Even more, photos from the traffic stop presented by the prosecution show Potter with her right hand on her gun as she approached the car. Tasers are kept on the left side of holsters.
The prosecution also got Potter to admit that Wright never threatened her physically or verbally, facts that should have eliminated the option for using any force, let alone deploying a Taser.
This is a developing story that will be updated with additional information as it becomes available.