Ex-Minnesota police officer sentenced to 2 years in death of Daunte Wright

Kimberly Potter sentenced for shooting Daunte Wright in Minneapolis
Katie Ann Wright, mother of Daunte Wright, speaks to the press after Kimberly Potter, a former police officer, was sentenced for manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Black motorist Daunte Wright during a traffic stop, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S. February 18, 2022.
REUTERS/Evan Frost

A Minnesota judge on Friday sentenced former police officer Kimberly Potter to two years in the fatal shooting of Black motorist Daunte Wright during a traffic stop, a lighter sentence than the roughly seven years in prison sought by prosecutors.

Potter, 49 — who mistook her handgun for her Taser in firing on Wright, 20, as he resisted officers who pulled him over in a Minneapolis suburb last April — was found guilty by a jury in December of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter.

“This is a cop who made a tragic mistake,” said Judge Regina Chu, who became emotional as she handed down the 24-month sentence, two-thirds of which is to be served in prison and the remaining third on supervised release.

Chu said Potter was required to make a split-second decision during a “chaotic and tense” encounter with Wright and that the evidence presented at trial justified her intended use of a Taser to protect another officer at the scene.

But she said a sentence of probation, which Potter’s lawyers had argued for, was not enough to account for the loss of life.

“In this case, a young man was killed because Officer Potter was reckless,” Chu said, calling the case one of the saddest in her career. “Rightfully, there should be some accountability.”

The shooting in Brooklyn Center triggered multiple nights of protests there, occurring just a few miles north of where Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was standing trial for killing George Floyd, a Black man whose 2020 death during an arrest helped set off demonstrations around the nation and the world over racism and killings by police.

Chu said Potter’s actions were not similar to those of Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes and was convicted of murder. Both Chauvin and Potter are white.

Wright’s mother Katie Wright, who had questioned the sincerity of Potter’s remorse during the former officer’s tearful trial testimony and asked the judge to give her the maximum sentence possible, blasted the sentence as too lenient.

“Kim Potter murdered my son, and he died April 11. Today the justice system murdered him all over again,” Wright told reporters outside the courthouse. “White woman tears trumped justice.”

Prosecutors had sought a prison term of 86 months, or seven years and two months, in line with state guidelines.

“I am so sorry that I hurt you so badly,” Potter said in brief remarks before the judge’s ruling, which were directed at Wright’s family. “My heart is broken and devastated for all of you.”

One of Potter’s attorneys, Paul Engh, had asked Chu at the sentencing hearing to consider that Wright had resisted arrest, labeling him an “aggressor.” He stressed Potter’s remorse over the “unintentional crime.”

In arguing for leniency, Potter’s lawyers had also cited her lack of a prior criminal record and her complaint-free 26 years on the police force. They said she posed a low risk for recidivism, noting that she would no longer be in law enforcement.

Potter has not appealed her conviction, and has not indicated she plans to appeal.

Potter and a second officer pulled Wright over because there was an air freshener illegally hanging from his mirror and his vehicle registration tab had expired. They then learned of a warrant for his arrest on a misdemeanor weapons charge and tried to detain him. Wright resisted, breaking free from the second officer.

Potter then shouted, “Taser, Taser, Taser” and fired at Wright with her handgun, video from her body-worn camera showed. Potter testified that she feared for the life of a third officer who had entered the car through the passenger side.

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