MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - A Hennepin County jury found former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter guilty of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter in the deadly traffic stop shooting of Daunte Wright. She is now the third police officer to be found guilty on charges related to an on-duty death in the state of Minnesota.
Potter was immediately taken into custody and will be held without bail. Her husband yelled, "Love you, Kim!" as she was led away in handcuffs. She was booked into the Department of Corrections women's prison in Shakopee, Minnesota shortly after. She will be sentenced on Friday, Feb. 18 at 9 a.m. CT.
After a trial that spanned nine days of evidence and testimony from over 30 witnesses, the 12 jurors deliberated for around 26 hours before deciding to convict Potter on both counts she was charged with.
The jury agreed to the guilty verdict for second-degree manslaughter at 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday, before they asked the judge what would happen if they could not come to a consensus on the verdict and whether they could remove the zip ties from Potter's gun to handle it. They did not reach a guilty verdict for first-degree manslaughter until 11:40 a.m. on Thursday.
Kim Potter was booked into the Department of Corrections women's prison in Shakopee, Minnesota shortly after Thursday's guilty verdicts.
Potter, 49, was charged with first-degree and second-degree manslaughter for shooting and killing Wright during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center on April 11. The defense claimed the shooting was an accident, that Potter, who is white, mistakenly grabbed her gun instead of her Taser when she fatally shot Wright. Prosecutors argued Potter was reckless and negligent and should go to prison.
The deadly shooting happened during the middle of the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd. The outrage over another police shooting, fueled in part by the quick release of Potter's body camera video clearly showing her firing a gun, led to nights of unrest outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department.
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Kim Potter sentencing scheduled
Potter will be sentenced on Feb. 18 at 9 a.m. CT. Here are the presumptive sentences she is looking at:
- First-degree manslaughter: 86 months, or over seven years
- Second-degree manslaughter: 48 months, or four years
However, prosecutors have said they will ask for an "upward departure" from the sentencing guidelines if Potter is convicted. Each charge has a statutory maximum the judge could go up to if she finds "aggravating factors."
Here are the aggravating factors prosecutors have said they would argue in Potter’s case:
- Potter’s conduct caused a greater-than-normal danger to the safety of other people when she fired into Wright’s vehicle in which a passenger was present and two other officers were in close proximity
- Potter abused her position of authority as a licensed police officer
If Potter is convicted of any charges and prosecutors successfully argue for an upward departure, the judge could go as high as the following sentences:
- First-degree manslaughter: Up to 15 years
- Second-degree manslaughter: Up to 10 years
Daunte Wright's family reacts to guilty verdict
Wright’s parents, Katie Bryant and Arbuey Wright, shared their reactions the moment they heard the jury had convicted the officer who killed their son.
"Emotions, every single emotion that you could imagine just running through your body at that moment," Bryant said. "I kind of let out a yelp because it was built up in the anticipation of what was to come while we were waiting for the last few days."
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who represents Wright's family, released the following statement on their behalf:
"The family of Daunte Wright is relieved that the justice system has provided some measure of accountability for the senseless death of their son, brother, father and friend. From the unnecessary and overreaching tragic traffic stop to the shooting that took his life, that day will remain a traumatic one for this family and yet another example for America of why we desperately need change in policing, training and protocols. If we are ever going to restore the confidence of Black and marginalized Americans in law enforcement, we need to have accountability and a commitment to listening and to creating meaningful change. We must now turn our attention to ensuring that Kim Potter receives the strongest and most just sentence possible. It is also imperative that we focus on the conduct of Brooklyn Center and pinpoint its systemic failures that contributed to Daunte's unlawful death."
Press conferences, reactions after verdict
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison spoke following Potter’s guilty verdict, telling law enforcement officers this does not diminish them.
"In fact, it shows the world that those of you who enforce the law are also willing to live by it," he said. "That’s a good thing. It restores trust, faith, and hope."
Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliot is expected to speak at 3:30 p.m. FOX 9 is streaming the presser here: fox9.com/live.
A small crowd gathered outside the Hennepin County Government Center cheered as Potter's guilty verdict was read.
Kim Potter jury
The 12-person jury consisted of six men and six women. Two of the jurors are Asian, one is Black and the rest are white.
Three of the jurors are in their 20s, one is in their 30s, four are in their 40s, two are in their 50s and two are in their 60s.
Jury asks what happens if they can't reach a verdict
The jurors worked throughout the day on Tuesday to reach a verdict, stopping at one point to ask Judge Chu two questions. First, they asked about the process if the jury was unable to come to a consensus on the verdict. In response, the judge re-read jury instructions.
For the second question, jurors wanted to handle the gun, which is zip-tied to a box. For that question, Judge Chu allowed the gun to be removed from the ties. The gun had been rendered safe and is not loaded, the judge further explained.
The defense objected to both decisions, but the judge overruled the defense.
A pool reporter in the courtroom noted the jurors were "quiet and calm, not visibly emotive, frustrated or angry. They appear neither tired nor energetic. Just relaxed."
Assistant Attorney General Erin Eldridge delivered the closing arguments for the state. She began by showing photos of Wright, reminding the jury that Potter’s children will be home for the holidays, but Wright’s family members will be without their son, brother and father.
"Daunte Wright’s parents, Katie and Arbuey Wright, will have an empty seat at their table this holiday season because the defendant shot and killed him on April 11 of this year," she said.
Eldridge then went frame by frame through Potter’s body camera footage of the deadly traffic stop. She countered the defense argument that Potter was trying to protect the life of Sgt. Mychal Johnson, who was leaning into the vehicle trying to prevent Wright from driving off.
"If anyone saved Sgt. Johnson’s life, it was Daunte Wright when he took a bullet to the chest," she said.
Eldridge broke down the definition and elements of manslaughter charges, reminding jurors the state does not need to prove Potter "intended" to kill Wright during the traffic stop. Potter is not charged with murder, she said.
Eldridge told the jury Potter was trained and warned for years about not mistaking her gun and her Taser. She said Potter was "reckless and culpably negligent" for Wright’s death.
"This was no little oopsie," she said. "This was not putting the wrong date on a check. This was not entering the wrong password somewhere. This was a colossal screw-up, a blunder of epic proportions."
Eldridge ended her argument saying that Potter destroyed public trust in police to safeguard lives.
"The defendant shattered that trust when she shattered Daunte Wright’s heart," she said. "She chose right instead of left. She chose wrong instead of right."
In his closing argument, defense attorney Earl Gray made three key arguments: Wright’s actions caused his own death, Potter had the right to use deadly force and she cannot be charged with recklessly using a gun when she did not know she had one.
Gray pleaded with the jury to act upon reasonable doubt and find Potter not guilty. He argued everything Potter did was legal and blamed Wright for his taking off "like a jet" in his car after the shooting. He said Wright should have remained at the scene to get immediate medical care.
"Did they prove beyond a reasonable doubt that [Potter] caused the death of Daunte Wright? No, he caused his own death," Gray said.
Gray told the jury to find Potter not guilty, arguing, "she didn’t cause this."
Some of the police experts and witnesses called to testify in the case said Potter would have been justified to use deadly force if she had intended to use her gun given the risk to Sgt. Johnson.
"She had the right to use deadly force," Gray said. "We proved it."
Gray also argued against the state’s manslaughter statute, saying, "How do you recklessly use a handgun when you didn’t know you had it?"
Earl Gray then got to the core of his defense. "In the walk of life, everyone makes mistakes," he said, adding, "My gosh, a mistake is not a crime."
Kim Potter testimony
Potter took the stand on Friday to testify in her own defense. The former officer explained what she remembered about shooting Wright, getting emotional at times during her testimony.
Potter testified she saw fear on Sgt. Johnson’s face inside the vehicle where he was attempting to keep Wright from fleeing in the vehicle, telling the jury, "it just went chaotic."
"I remember yelling, ‘Taser, Taser, Taser’ and nothing happened. And then he told me I shot him," she said.
Potter also told the jury if she had been working alone that day and not training Officer Anthony Luckey, she would not have pulled Wright’s vehicle over for such minor violations as expired tabs and air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror.
She apologized in tears, saying she did not mean to shoot Wright. "I'm sorry it happened," she said. "I'm so sorry."
What was notably absent from Potter’s testimony, however, was Potter explaining how she could have mistakenly drew her gun instead of her Taser when she shot and killed Wright.
"I think the jury would have liked to have known a little more about what was going on in her head at that moment," legal expert and criminal defense attorney Marsh Halberg said.
Kim Potter charges
Kim Potter was convicted of the following charges:
First-degree manslaughter - predicated on reckless use/handling of a firearm (Minnesota Statute: 609.20)
Maximum sentence: < 15 years
Description: Caused the death of Daunte Wright while committing the misdemeanor offense of 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.
Second-degree manslaughter - culpable negligence (Minnesota Statute: 609.205)
Maximum sentence: < 10 years
Description: Caused the death of Daunte Wright, by her culpable negligence, creating an unreasonable risk and consciously took a chance of causing death or great bodily harm while using or possessing a firearm.
Daunte Wright shooting
Daunte Wright’s death started with a traffic stop.
Potter was riding with rookie officer Anthony Luckey that Sunday night in April serving as his training officer. Pulling up behind a white Buick LaCrosse at an intersection, Luckey noticed the driver switched directional signals. He then noticed an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror, which in Minnesota is illegal. He also noticed expired license plate tabs.
During the trial Potter testified these were all trivial misdemeanors. The Minnesota Driver Vehicle Services Department had granted drivers a grace period during the pandemic for renewing their tabs. Potter said she would not have pulled over the car. But, Luckey did.
The resulting conversation between Luckey and the driver, Daunte Wright, produced a number of red flags. No driver’s license, no proof of ownership. His family had just given Wright the Buick from his brother and did not have the paperwork. Wright had to quickly call his mom asking for help.
When running Wright’s information through the computer database, Luckey discovered there was an outstanding warrant for a weapons violation. It was another red flag.
Officer Luckey also learned there was a protection order against Wright. There was a woman sitting in the passenger seat next to Wright. Could she be the woman who filed the order, he wondered. Two more red flags.
Luckey called for backup and attempted to place Wright under arrest as Potter watched from a few steps away.
As Luckey placed the cuffs on Wrights right hand, Wright panicked, broke free, and jumped back behind the wheel.
Almost at the same time, Sgt. Mychal Johnson, who arrived at the scene for backup, opened the passenger door, jumped over the woman passenger reaching for the gear shifter and keys to prevent Wright from driving away.
On the passenger side of the car, Officer Potter shouted she would tase Wright and then yelled, "taser, taser, taser" as a warning for the other officers to get out of the way.
But instead of the taser in her right hand, it was her gun. She fired a single shot.
"He shot me," Wright is heard saying on the body camera video.
The car sped off. It crashed into another car a block down the street. Daunte Wright bled to death in the front seat.
The medical examiner testified that Potter’s single hollow point bullet pierced and expanded as it tore a path through Wright’s left lung, front lobe of the heart, and right lung before lodging in the skin near his rib cage.
"He lost nearly half his blood," said Hennepin Co. Assistant Medical Examiner Lorren Jackson. Wright died within seconds to minutes, Jackson testified.
Back at site of the traffic stop, Potter wept.
"I grabbed the wrong f—ing gun. I shot him."
She cried, "Oh, my God!" over and over again.
Taking the stand in her own defense, Potter recalled the chaos and the blur of the moment.
"We were trying to keep him from driving away," Potter told the jurors through her tears. "It’ went chaotic. I remember yelling taser, taser, taser and then something happened and he told me I had shot him."
Then police chief Tim Gannon released the body camera footage of the deadly traffic stop almost immediately following the incident. He was the first to publicly claim Potter mistook her gun for her Taser when she shot and killed Wright.