Here are the charges that Kimberly Potter faces.
The police officer who shot and killed Mr. Wright during a traffic stop faces two felony counts; both are for manslaughter, not murder.,
Kimberly Potter, a former police officer who shot and killed Daunte Wright during a traffic stop, has taken the witness stand in a Minneapolis courtroom, giving her first public account of what happened.
Ms. Potter, a white officer who worked for the Brooklyn Center Police Department for 26 years, appeared to accidentally draw her gun instead of her Taser when she fatally shot Mr. Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, in April. Mr. Wright had broken free from another officer who was trying to arrest him on an outstanding warrant for missing a court date on an earlier gun charge.
Mr. Wright had called his mother when he was pulled over, and she testified last week that he sounded nervous on the phone. The police had stopped his car because he had an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror and an expired registration, both of which are violations.
Body camera videos of the shooting showed that Ms. Potter, 49, had shouted that she was going to stun Mr. Wright with her Taser and yelled “Taser! Taser! Taser” immediately before firing a single bullet into his chest from the service gun she also carried. In the videos, a distraught Ms. Potter tells her fellow officers that she “grabbed the wrong gun,” using an expletive, and then collapses to the ground, sobbing. Within days of the shooting, she resigned from the force.
Prosecutors do not dispute that the shooting was a mistake, but they contend that Ms. Potter acted so recklessly and dangerously that she should be imprisoned, and they have charged her with first-degree and second-degree manslaughter, either of which would most likely mean several years in prison if she were convicted.
For the first time, we are hearing Kimberly Potter describe in her own words what happened on the day Daunte Wright was killed. She said the reason her partner wanted to pull him over was the air freshener and expired tags. But she said that if she had been alone, she probably would not have pulled Wright over.
While not common, there have been several instances in which police officers mistakenly fired their guns when they meant to draw their Tasers.
In 2018, a rookie Kansas police officer mistakenly shot a man who was fighting with a fellow officer. In 2019, a police officer in Pennsylvania shouted “Taser!” before shooting an unarmed man in the torso. And in one of the most publicized cases, a white police officer with the Bay Area Rapid Transit agency said he had meant to fire his Taser when he fatally shot Oscar Grant III, who was Black, as Mr. Grant was lying facedown on the train platform on New Year’s Day in 2009.
In April, The New York Times reported that of 15 cases of so-called weapon confusion in the last two decades, a third of the officers were indicted and three — including the only two cases in which people were killed — were found guilty.
In Kimberly Potter’s trial, one of the prosecution’s expert witnesses testified that he was aware of fewer than 20 instances of “weapons confusion” involving a Taser and gun since 2001.
The witness, Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who studies the use of force by police officers, said many police forces now train officers on how to avoid weapons confusion, which he called a “very well known” risk.
In Ms. Potter’s case, prosecutors do not dispute that she mistakenly drew her Taser, but they are making a case to jurors that she acted so recklessly — given her experience and training — that she should be found guilty of manslaughter.
Mr. Stoughton said for that reason many agencies advise officers to keep their Taser on the non-dominant side of their police belt, as Ms. Potter’s was, and that the companies that make stun guns had tried to make them appear more distinct from guns. Many Tasers are at least partially yellow, as Ms. Potter’s was.
Reporting from Minneapolis
Kimberly Potter testifies that she believes she had never fired her Taser in 26 years as a police officer. She said she had taken it out several times, but didn’t think she had ever fired it.
We are hearing more about Kimberly Potter’s extracurricular activities – helping families of fallen officers and carrying caskets at memorials. This all helps paint the picture the defense wants the jury to see: Potter as a diligent, dedicated and honest officer.
Kimberly Potter’s goals here could be two-fold: One, to express remorse over Daunte Wright’s death in a way that resonates with jurors. At the same time, she could bolster the defense’s argument that her use of force was lawful because she believed another officer, who at one point was leaning into the vehicle, was in great danger when Wright resisted arrest.
Potter’s lawyer is walking her through her upbringing, education and early career, in an effort to humanize her before the jurors.
Reporting from Minneapolis
Kimberly Potter, the former police officer who shot and killed Daunte Wright during a traffic stop when she appeared to mistakenly draw her gun instead of her Taser, is now taking the stand to testify in front of a jury. She is facing two manslaughter charges, and a conviction on either count would likely send her to prison for at least several years.
Reporting from Minneapolis
In the courtroom for testimony this morning is Kimberly Potter’s husband, a retired police officer, as well as Daunte Wright’s parents.
Reporting from Minneapolis
The defense is wrapping up testimony in the trial of Kimberly Potter, the former police officer facing manslaughter charges for killing Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in a Minneapolis suburb. She is expected to take the stand later today. The court is on break but should return soon.
A lawyer for Kimberly Potter, the former police officer on trial for manslaughter in the killing of Daunte Wright, told jurors in opening statements that Ms. Potter “made a mistake” in fatally shooting Mr. Wright when she had meant to stun him with her Taser.
Paul Engh, the lawyer, noted that Ms. Potter had clearly warned Mr. Wright that she was about to use her Taser on him during a traffic stop last April.
“All he had to do was surrender,” Mr. Engh said of Mr. Wright, 20, who had been trying to flee from officers as they attempted to arrest him on an outstanding warrant. “But that wasn’t his plan. He continued on with his struggle,” Mr. Engh said.
Ms. Potter, 49, was a police officer with the Brooklyn Center Police Department for 26 years until she resigned days after shooting Mr. Wright.
She fatally shot Mr. Wright after appearing to accidentally draw her handgun instead of her Taser. Prosecutors have not asserted that the shooting was intentional, but have said that Ms. Potter was reckless, charging her with first-degree manslaughter and second-degree manslaughter. A conviction on either count would likely bring years in prison.
In questioning witnesses, prosecutors have suggested that Ms. Potter was not justified in firing a Taser — let alone her service weapon — because Mr. Wright was in the driver’s seat of a running car. Brooklyn Center Police Department policy advises against using a Taser on someone who is operating a car. Ms. Potter’s lawyers have argued that Mr. Wright was not operating the car when the shooting took place during a traffic stop.
In video of the shooting, a distraught Ms. Potter swears after pulling the trigger on her handgun and tells her fellow officers that she grabbed the wrong weapon. Moments later, the video shows, she collapses to the ground, where she sobs and says she is going to go to prison.
“She realizes what has happened, much to her everlasting and unending regret,” Mr. Engh said. “She made a mistake. This was an accident. She’s a human being.”
He also disagreed with a suggestion by prosecutors that Ms. Potter had not been justified in trying to use her Taser — even if she had been using the correct weapon. Mr. Engh argued that she had been trying to stun Mr. Wright because she feared that he was going to drive away as another officer, Sgt. Mychal Johnson, was leaning into the passenger-side window of Mr. Wright’s car. If Ms. Potter had done nothing, Mr. Engh asserted, Sergeant Johnson could have died.
Ms. Potter’s husband, Jeff, was a police officer in a different Minneapolis suburb until he retired in 2017. They have two adult children.
The criminal complaint filed by prosecutors in Hennepin County, Minn., lists two criminal counts against the defendant, Kimberly Potter, a police officer, in connection with the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center in April. Both counts are felonies, but neither is a murder charge.
Ms. Potter has pleaded not guilty, and her lawyers have argued that the shooting happened accidentally and that she thought she was using her Taser and not her pistol when she pulled the trigger. Prosecutors have not suggested that the shooting was intentional.
The two counts are separate and not mutually exclusive; Ms. Potter can be convicted or acquitted of either charge, or of both.
Minnesota law also allows juries to consider convicting a defendant of an “included offense” — a lesser degree of the same crime, or another lesser crime that was proved in the course of the trial — in place of a charge listed in the complaint.
Here are the charges:
One of the ways Minnesota law defines first-degree manslaughter is causing someone’s death while committing or attempting to commit a lesser crime — a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor — in a way that a reasonable person could foresee would cause death or great bodily harm.
Specifically, prosecutors accuse Ms. Potter of causing Mr. Wright’s death through reckless handling or use of a firearm.
First-degree manslaughter is a felony, punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $30,000. The standard sentence for someone without a criminal record, like Ms. Potter, would be about seven years.
One of the ways Minnesota law defines second-degree manslaughter is causing someone’s death through culpable negligence, by creating an unreasonable risk and consciously taking chances of causing death or great bodily harm.
Prosecutors accuse Ms. Potter of doing so while using a firearm.
Second-degree manslaughter is a felony, punishable by up to 10 years’ imprisonment and a fine of up to $20,000. The standard sentence for a person without any previous convictions would be about four years.
Daunte Wright has been remembered by friends as upbeat and gregarious, someone who loved to play basketball and was a supportive father to his son, Daunte Jr., who was a year old when Mr. Wright, 20, was killed by a police officer during a traffic stop.
“He always said he couldn’t wait to make his son proud,” Katie Bryant, Mr. Wright’s mother, said at his funeral in April. “Junior was the joy of his life, and he lived for him every single day, and now he’s not going to be able to see him.”
Mr. Wright’s death came during a traffic stop in a Minneapolis suburb when an officer, Kimberly Potter, fired a single shot from her handgun, apparently mistaking it for her Taser.
Mr. Wright had been working at Taco Bell and a Famous Footwear shoe store shortly before he died, and was considering a career in carpentry, his mother testified in court. She said he had also enrolled in Summit Academy, a vocational school, about two months before he was killed. He had six siblings and was living at his parents’ home with his two younger sisters when he was killed.
A little over a month after his death, a lawsuit against Mr. Wright’s family raised questions about whether Mr. Wright was involved in a violent dispute in May 2019.
The woman who filed the lawsuit claimed that Mr. Wright had shot her son — a former friend of his — in the head in Minneapolis leaving him severely disabled, possibly because the man had “beat up” Mr. Wright earlier that month. The lawsuit offers no direct evidence tying Mr. Wright to the shooting, which remains unsolved. Katie Wright has called the claims hurtful, and told The Star Tribune: “To run with allegations like that is pretty bad, whether they are true or not true.”
The judge overseeing the trial of Ms. Potter has said Mr. Wright’s conduct before he was killed — including the allegation that he shot the man and any previous arrests — can only be brought up at trial if it is shown that Ms. Potter knew about it at the time of the traffic stop.
Many who knew Mr. Wright have acknowledged that he had made mistakes but had been trying to improve his life for his son.
A friend, Emajay Driver, said that Mr. Wright had “loved to make people laugh.” As a freshman in high school, Mr. Wright had been voted a class clown. “There was never a dull moment,” Mr. Driver said.
Delivering a eulogy at the funeral, the Rev. Al Sharpton said he was told that Minneapolis had not seen a funeral procession so large since Prince, the musician who was born and raised in Minneapolis, died in 2016.
“You thought he was just some kid with an air freshener,” Mr. Sharpton said at Mr. Wright’s funeral, referring to the air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror, which prosecutors said was one reason that the police stopped Mr. Wright’s car. Mr. Sharpton added: “He was a prince, and all of Minneapolis has stopped today to honor the prince of Brooklyn Center.”