A jury deliberated for just over five hours Monday in the manslaughter trial of Kim Potter, the former Minnesota police officer who mistook her firearm for her Taser and fatally shot Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop in April.
Earlier Monday, the prosecution and defense laid out their closing arguments in the case, in which Potter, who is White, faces charges of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter. She has pleaded not guilty to both counts.
Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Erin Eldridge argued that Potter was negligent and acted recklessly, both in the early parts of the traffic stop and in her fatal mix-up.
“This was a colossal screwup,” she said. “It was precisely the thing she had been warned about for years and she was trained to prevent it.”
The defense for the 49-year-old former Brooklyn Center police officer has characterized the killing as an unfortunate accident and argued she was within her rights to use deadly force to protect a fellow officer, who was reaching into the vehicle when Wright attempted to drive away.
“Everybody makes mistakes, nobody’s perfect,” attorney Earl Gray. “This lady made a mistake and a mistake is not a crime.”
The jury of six men and six women asked one question during their deliberations Monday to request the date that Potter interviewed with a defense expert witness. Judge Regina Chu told the jurors to rely on their collective memory.
The jury, which is being sequestered until the trial ends, is expected to return for further deliberations Tuesday. Two alternates who had sat through the course of the trial were excused prior to deliberations.
More than 30 witnesses, including Potter herself, testified over eight days during the trial. Potter fatally shot Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, after police pulled Wright over for an expired tag. During the stop, officers learned he had an outstanding warrant and attempted to arrest him.
Potter can be heard yelling “Taser” repeatedly before she shoots Wright. After firing her handgun, she yells, “Holy sh*t! I just shot him!” She resigned from the police department days later.
In the trial, an emotional Potter spent hours on the stand and broke down into tears several times as she described the “chaotic” moments that led up to the shooting.
“I was very distraught. I just shot somebody. I’m sorry it happened,” Potter said, crying, in court. “I’m so sorry.”
The fatal shooting in April — just miles from where former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin stood trial for killing George Floyd — set off days of unrest in Brooklyn Center after a summer of coast-to-coast protests over how police treat people of color.
Prosecution says Potter ‘made a series of bad choices’
In the prosecution’s closing arguments, Eldridge said Potter had 26 years of training in use of force with her firearm and 19 years of training on Taser use, including training on “weapon confusion.”
“Every year she signed the paperwork acknowledging the risks,” Eldridge said. “All that training and all that experience shows she was aware of the risks associated with her weapons.”
The shooting came after Potter “made a series of bad choices,” she said. Even if Potter had actually used her Taser as intended, that would not have been appropriate, she argued.
“This was no little oopsie. This was not putting the wrong date on a check. This was not entering the wrong password somewhere,” Eldridge added.
“Accidents can still be crimes if they occur because of recklessness or culpable negligence,” the prosecutor said. “It’s not a defense to the crimes charged.”
Further, she challenged the defense’s argument that Wright was responsible for his own death.
“The defendant will tell you Daunte Wright is somehow to blame for his own death. But make no mistake, we’re here because of the defendant’s actions, not Daunte Wright’s,” she said.
Defense says Potter had right to use force
For the defense, most of Gray’s closing argument focused on Wright’s actions during the traffic stop. Body camera video of the April 11 incident shows Wright got back in his vehicle and attempted to flee while one of Potter’s fellow police officers was partially inside the car.
Gray said Wright tried to flee when officers saw that he had outstanding warrants, including for a weapons offense.
“Did they prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she caused this death? No. Daunte Wright caused his own death, unfortunately,” he said.
When the officers found out Wright had outstanding warrants, they couldn’t allow him to drive away, Gray said. “That’s not protecting the public. That’s not serving the public. They had to stop him,” he said.
“The causation was Daunte Wright,” he added. “Everything (Potter) did was legal and then he tried to break away.” He said that “you can reasonably infer he was guilty of the weapons violation” and tried to run.
Gray also argued that Potter’s use of deadly force was legal because another officer was in the car and could have been injured when Wright drove off.
“Even though she didn’t know she was using it, she had the right to, and that’s what the law is,” said Gray.
He said Potter’s Taser training doesn’t mean she couldn’t make a mistake in the stress of the moment.
“In the walk of life, nobody’s perfect,” he said. “You can be trained forever and under exigent circumstances make a mistake.”
He also said that her admitted mistake indicates she’s not guilty of the charges.
“She didn’t know she had a weapon. She didn’t know she had a gun,” he said. “How can you consciously recklessly handle a gun if you don’t know you have one?”
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