Former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter manslaughter trial explained

Potter is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter for shooting and killing 20-year-old Black man, Daunte Wright.

The+Hennepin+County+Government+Center%2C+on+Sunday%2C+Feb.+28+during+the+trial+of+Derek+Chauvin%2C+the+police+officer+charged+with+the+murder+of+George+Floyd.

Shannon Doyle

The Hennepin County Government Center, on Sunday, Feb. 28 during the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer charged with the murder of George Floyd.

by Hanna Van Den Einde

In the midst of the Chauvin trial in April, former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter shot and killed 20-year-old Black man Daunte Wright during a traffic stop. As her trial begins, here is what she is charged with.

Potter is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter and she pleaded not guilty to both charges. First-degree manslaughter is a misdemeanor charge of reckless handling of a firearm that could cause death or bodily harm to another individual. This means Potter handled her firearm in a way that endangered the safety of Wright and caused his death.

Potter fatally shot Wright during a traffic stop on Apr. 11, 2021 after she shouted, “Taser, Taser.” Potter resigned two days later and was charged with second-degree manslaughter, and a first-degree manslaughter charge was added in September.

The trial started Nov. 30 at the Hennepin County Government Center, where officials closed the skyways and tunnel surrounding the building for security. Unlike the Chauvin trial, there are currently no fences or officers surrounding the building.

The typical sentence for first-degree manslaughter for someone with no previous criminal history is between 6 and 8.5 years, but the prosecution is seeking an upward departure that would give her the full sentence of 15 years.

Second-degree manslaughter indicates that the person created an unreasonable risk and consciously risked death or bodily harm to another individual. It requires proof of culpable negligence, which means that a person acted recklessly, without caution and put another person at risk of injury or death. The prosecution is expected to argue that Potter created an unreasonable risk by grabbing her gun instead of her Taser.

The typical sentence for second-degree manslaughter is between 3.5 and 5 years. Neither of the charges against Potter require evidence that she intentionally killed Wright.

Jury selection began on Nov. 30 and 12 jurors have been selected. Two more will need to be selected before the trial can begin.

Potter was a police officer in Brooklyn Center for 26 years and completed two Taser-specific training courses in the six months leading up to Wright’s death. The prosecution will argue Potter had extensive training and experience, and therefore should have known the difference between her gun and Taser.

Potter’s defense is expected to argue that the death of Daunte Wright was an accident or mistake, she had a lack of causation and her perceived use of a Taser was reasonable.

Mary Moriarty, former chief public defender for Hennepin County, said she thought Potter’s actions were a mistake and it was grievous.

“There are a lot of people that make mistakes. Is it a mistake to get in a car when you’ve been drinking and driving? Yes. If you cause an accident and you kill somebody, does that make it a crime? Yes,” Moriarty said. “Even though it was still a mistake, your behavior endangered and ultimately led to the end of somebody’s life. So it’s not different for police officers.”

Sarah Davis, executive director of the Legal Rights Center, said this incident could lead police departments to change their policies for traffic stops. In response to Wright’s killing, the Brooklyn Center Police Department started requiring citations for misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors and then officers must release the suspect unless they are a threat or the offense includes a gun.

“I think what we’ve seen over and over again, is that it’s Black and brown people who are stopped by police for these really minor traffic offense allegations,” Davis said. “Hopefully what you’ll start to see is that there will be a shift away from approaching traffic stops in a way that could potentially lead to this type of violence.”