Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office/Getty Images
Jury selection began Tuesday in the trial of Kim Potter, the former police officer from Brooklyn Center, Minn., who said she mistook her handgun for her Taser when she shot and killed a 20-year-old Black man named Daunte Wright in April.
Potter, who is white, faces two manslaughter charges. Her criminal trial is expected to begin in early December.
Both prosecutors and defense lawyers agree the shooting was an accident. But prosecutors, led by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, say Potter’s actions were criminally negligent.
Defense lawyers have argued that because Wright was resisting arrest, a use of force was authorized and that Potter was not consciously aware that she was holding her gun and is therefore innocent.
The shooting occurred as the Minneapolis area was already on edge over the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer who murdered George Floyd. His trial was then taking place about 10 miles away. After Wright’s killing, days of protests roiled Brooklyn Center, a diverse inner-ring suburb just across the city border from Minneapolis.
Opening statements are scheduled to begin by Wednesday, Dec. 8, the judge said. The trial is expected to wrap up by Christmas Eve. Potter is likely to testify in her own defense, her attorneys suggested during jury selection Tuesday.
Here’s what else you need to know:
The shooting on April 11, 2021
On the afternoon of April 11, Potter was training a new officer. Together, they pulled over a white Buick. Wright was driving, and his girlfriend was in the passenger seat, according to his family.
The trainee, Anthony Luckey, told Wright that he had been stopped because an air freshener was hanging from his rearview mirror — a minor traffic violation in Minnesota — and because his license plate tabs had expired, according to the criminal complaint.
During the stop, officers discovered a warrant for Wright’s arrest over a failure to appear in court on a weapons charge stemming from an incident in which he fled from police the previous summer.
After finding the warrant, Luckey asked Wright to exit the car. But as Luckey attempted to handcuff him, Wright pulled away and tried to duck back inside the car.
As Potter yelled warnings that she would use her Taser, she drew her handgun and fired once, striking Wright in his left side.
Less than a minute elapsed from the moment Wright was asked to step out of the car to the moment Potter fired her gun.
The bullet passed through both of Wright’s lungs and his heart, killing him. He was pronounced dead at the scene several minutes later.
Potter says she meant to use her Taser, and her body-camera footage will be key evidence
Key to the trial will be the footage from Potter’s body-worn camera, which recorded the entire incident. Police released the footage in the days following the shooting.
The video clearly shows Wright’s attempt to escape arrest. Wright was pressed against the rear driver’s-side door as Luckey attempted to handcuff him. Potter walked over to assist, but Wright yanked away his arm and ducked back into the driver’s seat.
In the video, Potter can be heard yelling, “I’m gonna tase you” and “Taser, Taser, Taser!” as she drew and fired her gun.
Afterward, as her body-worn camera was still recording, Potter said, “S***!” and “I just shot him.” According to prosecutors, she remarked to another officer that she “grabbed the wrong f***ing gun” and that she was “going to go to prison.”
Potter had a bright yellow plastic Taser holstered on her left hip and a Glock 9 mm handgun holstered on her right, according to the criminal complaint.
During her 26 years of service, Potter had received “a substantial amount of training” related to Tasers, prosecutors say, including two Taser-specific courses in the six months before the shooting.
What charges does Potter face?
Potter faces two counts: first-degree manslaughter and second-degree manslaughter.
Initially, prosecutors sought only the lower charge. But in September, prosecutors added a charge of first-degree manslaughter.
In Minnesota, a person can be convicted of first-degree manslaughter if they cause the death of another while also committing a misdemeanor — in this case, reckless handling of a firearm. Second-degree manslaughter, by contrast, requires that prosecutors prove only that the defendant acted with “culpable negligence” as the defendant consciously took actions that created an “unreasonable risk” of causing death or great bodily harm.
Defense lawyers asked Judge Regina Chu to dismiss the more serious charge, but Chu denied their motion, saying that prosecutors had successfully established probable cause to charge her.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of 15 years and 10 years, respectively. But prosecutors have also asked the judge to consider a stronger sentence than usual if Potter is convicted.
Only two Minnesota police officers have been convicted for killing a civilian while on duty. The first was Mohamed Noor, a Black Somali American officer convicted of manslaughter for killing Justine Damond, a white woman.
The second was Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd and was convicted on two murder charges and one second-degree manslaughter charge.
Officers mistakenly using their gun instead of a Taser is rare but not unheard of. In 2010, a former police officer named Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter after fatally shooting Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Black man, at the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland, Calif. Mehserle said during his criminal trial that he had intended to use his Taser.
The case touches on heated issues and is expected to be highly watched
Like other criminal trials this year that dealt with issues of criminal justice — the trials of Derek Chauvin, Kyle Rittenhouse, the men who killed Ahmaud Arbery — Potter’s trial is expected to be watched by many.
Cameras will be allowed in the courthouse, the judge has ruled. The trial is likely to be livestreamed by local and national media.
Practically every prospective juror told the court Tuesday that they had heard of the shooting, which took place as the Minneapolis area was already unsettled over the Chauvin trial.
Many had already seen the body-camera footage, and several expressed strong opinions about Potter or Wright.
In addition to the facts about the case, prosecutors and defense lawyers attempted to uncover juror bias by quizzing them about their feelings about race and policing: Do they believe Black and white people are treated differently under the criminal justice system? How do they feel about gun ownership or defunding the police? What were their feelings about the racial justice protests that occurred in Minneapolis following George Floyd’s killing and the property damage that took place then?
Several jurors were seated Tuesday, including a special education teacher and a manager at a Target distribution center.