Jurors were hearing closing arguments Monday in the manslaughter trial of former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter, who fatally shot Daunte Wright while yelling “Taser” earlier this year.
Prosecutor Erin Eldridge described Potter as a 26-year veteran Brooklyn Center Police officer who knew the risks of drawing her weapon when she shot the 20-year-old Black motorist in the April traffic stop-turned-arrest in the Minneapolis suburb.
“This case is about the defendant’s rash and reckless conduct,” Eldridge said. “It’s not about her being a nice person or a good person. Even nice people have to obey the law.”
Potter, 49, is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter. Prosecutors say she recklessly handled her firearm and caused Wright’s death through her “culpable negligence” – a conscious and disregard of a substantial and unjustifiable risk.
Defense attorneys, who called multiple witnesses over two days, say Potter accidentally confused her firearm for a Taser but would have been justified in using deadly force to prevent Wright from injuring another officer as he drove away.
After Potter shot Wright inside a vehicle, he drove down the street and crashed into an oncoming car. Potter, who is white, shouted several expletives and said she “grabbed the wrong” gun, according to police bodycam videos.
Potter cried on the witness stand Friday as she recounted what she said was the “chaotic” moment she shot Wright. “I didn’t want to hurt anybody,” she said.
Over the course of six days in the state’s case, prosecutors called witnesses, played dozens of videos and showed jurors training slideshows in a bid to prove Potter was “no rookie” who was well aware of the risks associated with her weapons, including the risks of shooting a driver of a vehicle, of collateral injuries and of confusing firearms and Tasers.
“This was a colossal screw-up — a blunder of epic proportions. It was precisely the thing she had been warned about for years, and she was trained to prevent it,” Eldridge said.
Eldridge disputed the defense’s claim that Potter was attempting to prevent injury to another officer who had leaned into Wright’s vehicle and was in danger of being dragged as Wright hit the gas.
“No one was dragged. No one was almost dragged,” Eldridge said.
The first-degree charge carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and/or a $30,000 fine, and the second-degree charge has a maximum sentence of 10 years and/or a $20,000 fine.
While Minnesota judges typically follow sentencing guidelines that call for less time, prosecutors say there are aggravating factors in the case that warrant a tougher sentence. Prosecutors say Potter abused her position of authority and caused a “greater than normal danger” to the safety of Wright’s passenger, other officers and civilians on the street.
Who’s on the jury? 14 people selected in trial of Kim Potter
Twelve jurors and two alternates are hearing evidence in the case, which is being livestreamed. About 68% of Hennepin County residents are non-Hispanic white, nearly 14% are Black, 7.5% are Asian, and 7% are Hispanic or Latino, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The 12-person jury, with nine white panelists, is 75% white.
The judge will rule on the aggravating factors.
Earlier this month, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said he was prepared to ask the National Guard to respond to assist local law enforcement during the trial “out of an abundance of caution.” Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Center School Board extended winter break in anticipation of the conclusion of the trial, according to school officials.