Originally published Feb. 18, 2022
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - Former Brooklyn Center Police Officer Kim Potter, who was convicted of manslaughter in December for shooting and killing Daunte Wright, has been sentenced to two years, 16 months of which will be served in prison.
The remaining eight months will be on supervised release.
Judge Regina Chu said that this was the case of a "cop who made a tragic mistake. She drew her firearm thinking it was a Taser and ended up killing a young man."
The court approved a downward departure from the typical sentence, as Chu said Potter never intended to use her firearm and the scene was chaotic.
Potter shot Wright, a 20-year-old Black motorist, during a traffic stop on April 11, 2021. She said she meant to use her Taser, not her gun, but shot him once in the chest. She was found guilty of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter on Dec. 23, after roughly four days of jury deliberation.
Victim Impact Statements
Before Potter was sentenced on Friday, Wright's family members gave victim impact statements. Katie Wright, Daunte Wright's mother, gave the first impact statement, tearfully saying to Potter: "I'll never be able to forgive you for what you stole from us." She asked Judge Regina Chu to hold Potter to the "highest accountability."
Wright's father Arbuey Wright said "Daunte meant the world to me."
"She was a police officer longer than my son was alive," Arbuey Wright said, while asking for Chu to apply the maximum sentence to Potter.
"He could light up a whole stadium with his smile and laugh," Diamond Wright, Daunte's sister said at the podium.
Chyna Whitaker, the mother of Daunte's child, gave the last victim impact statement. "Kim Potter took my son's best friend away from him and things haven't been the same since," she said. "I am now a single mother not by choice, by force."
Kim Potter Speaks To Wright Family
Defense attorney Paul Engh during a 45-minute statement said Potter was "particularly amenable" for probation, as she does not have a record and has no risk of recidivism as she can never be a police officer again. He held up a box of letters Potter has received since she was convicted, and said she has lived a virtuous Catholic life. He also argued that 60% of the time, sentencing guidelines aren't followed for women, because they are too high.
After a break, Potter approached the podium and turned around to face the family members of Daunte Wright.
"I am so sorry that I brought the death of your son, brother, father, uncle, grandson," she said. "Katie, I understand a mother's love and I am sorry I broke your heart."
"Earlier when you said I didn't look at you during the trial, I didn't believe I had the right to," she said. Potter broke down, adding that "I pray for Daunte and all of you many, many times a day. He is not more than one thought away from my heart....and I have no right for that, for him to be in my heart."
She apologized to the community of Brooklyn Center, saying she loved working for the city, and the people still working there are "good, honorable people."
Wright Family Expresses Disappointment
After the sentencing, family members gathered outside of the Hennepin County Courthouse, expressing their disappointment.
"Kim Potter murdered my son and he died April 11," Katie Wright said. "Today the justice system murdered him all over again."
The family's attorney Ben Crump said there was an "apples to apples" comparison to the case of Mohamed Noor, a Somali American former Minneapolis police officer who was convicted of manslaughter in the death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, who was white. Noor was initially sentenced to more than 12 years in prison, before he was resentenced in late 2021 on a lesser charge.
"What we see today is the legal system in America in Black and white," Crump said, highlighting the disparities in the way the criminal justice system sentences BIPOC and white convicted criminals. He added that there are Black people in prison serving a longer sentence for selling marijuana than Potter will serve for killing Wright.
Attorney General Keith Ellison said he accepts Chu's judgement. "I don't ask you to agree with her decision, which takes nothing away from the truth of the jury's verdict," he said. He added that justice is more than accountability, but is healing and compassion.
During her trial, the prosecution argued Wright's death was caused by Potter's recklessness, and said Potter put her police partners in danger by shooting into a vehicle. The defense insisted that Wright caused a chaotic struggle that led to his own death.
The death of another Black man at the hands of a white officer reignited the call for police accountability and racial justice in Minnesota and across the country at a time when, just miles away, Derek Chauvin was on trial for the murder of George Floyd.
In the days following Wright's death, dozens were arrested as protesters clashed with police in Brooklyn Center, and the city passed a sweeping public safety resolution, though parts of the proposal have yet to be implemented.
By Minnesota law, Potter was sentenced only on the higher charge of first-degree manslaughter. The maximum charge is 15 years, but for someone with no criminal history like Potter, guidelines range from between six and eight-and-a-half years.
Prosecutors initially outlined aggravating factors in Blakely filings, which would have allowed Potter to serve a higher sentence, but said in court Friday that the presumptive sentence would be appropriate.
"The community also has an interest in rehabilitation, reformation, restoration," said prosecutor Matthew Frank.
The defense said they would seek no prison time.
After she was convicted in December, Potter was taken to the women's prison in Shakopee. She has been in isolation ever since. Her anticipated release date is April 24, 2023.
On Friday afternoon, the City of Brooklyn Center issued the following statement:
"Our thoughts and prayers continue to go to Daunte Wright's family and loved ones as they heal, as well as, everyone else impacted by the tragic loss. We know it will take time for our community to heal and move forward, but we are committed to continue with our ongoing efforts working with community members to create a stronger, more tolerant and inclusive Brooklyn Center."
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