Former police officer Kim Potter will be sentenced early next year after a Minnesota jury found her guilty Thursday of first- and second-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright.
Potter, who is white, shot and killed 20-year-old Wright, who was Black, while attempting to arrest him during a traffic stop on April 11 in Brooklyn Center, a suburb of Minneapolis.
She and a trainee officer said they pulled Wright over because he had a blinker on in the wrong turn lane, expired tags and an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror. They attempted to detain him after discovering a warrant for his arrest and an order of protection against him.
During the struggle, Potter, 49, shot Wright with her handgun while repeatedly yelling “Taser.”
The shooting occurred during the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd just miles from the courthouse. Wright’s death sparked days of protests and looting in Brooklyn Center and inflamed nationwide tensions over police violence in the U.S.
Like Chauvin, Potter was sent directly to state prison to await sentencing after the jury reached a verdict following 72 hours of deliberations. Hennepin County District Court Judge Regina Chu denied a request from Potter’s defense attorney to release her on bail until sentencing, which is set for Feb. 18, 2022.
How much prison time does Kim Potter face?
The first-degree manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and/or a $30,000 fine. The second-degree charge has a maximum sentence of 10 years and/or a $20,000 fine.
Potter will only be sentenced on the most serious charge. For someone with no criminal history, the presumptive sentence for first-degree manslaughter in Minnesota is about six to eight-and-a-half years, according to state guidelines.
In Minnesota, it’s presumed that a defendant with good behavior will serve two-thirds of their sentence in prison and one-third on supervised release, known as parole.
Was former officer Kim Potter reckless? What jurors needed to decide in Daunte Wright’s death.
What will the judge consider in Kim Potter’s sentencing?
To determine Potter’s sentence, Chu will likely consider arguments made by both sides, victim impact statements and whether Potter makes a statement that takes responsibility or shows remorse at her sentencing hearing.
Prosecutors said Potter should face harsher sentencing because of two aggravating factors: she abused her position of authority and “caused a greater than normal danger” to the safety of other people nearby, including the passenger in Wright’s vehicle, two officers on the scene and civilians on the busy public street.
Meanwhile, Potter’s attorney Paul Engh said he will seek a “dispositional departure” from sentencing guidelines, meaning he’ll ask the judge to stay the sentence and allow Potter to be put on probation, home monitoring or serve her sentence in a local jail instead of prison.
Police rarely prosecuted for on-duty shootings
Law enforcement officers fatally shoot about 1,000 people a year, but arrests and convictions are rare in fatal police shootings partly because officers are able to use lethal force to defend themselves or others.
“Almost all” police shootings are determined to be justified, according to Philip Stinson, a Bowling Green State University criminology professor who tracks police misconduct.
Police have fatally shot more than 6,300 people since 2015, according to a Washington Post’s database created after the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. In that time, Stinson found 91 officers were arrested on murder or manslaughter charges stemming from an on-duty shooting
Since 2005, seven officers have been convicted of murder, 37 were convicted of lesser offenses and 53 were not convicted. Meanwhile, 45 more criminal cases are ongoing.
A look at similar cases in Minnesota
Earlier this year, Judge Peter Cahill sentenced Chauvin to 22 1/2 years for second-degree unintentional murder in Floyd’s death.
The presumptive sentence was 12 1/2 years, but Cahill found aggravating factors including that Chauvin abused his position of authority, treated Floyd with particular cruelty and knew that kneeling on Floyd’s neck was dangerous, and that several children witnessed the crime.
In October, Judge Kathryn Quaintance resentenced former Minneapolis officer Mohamed Noor to four years and nine months in prison for second-degree manslaughter in the 2017 shooting death of Justine Damond Ruszczyk.
Quaintance gave Noor, who’s murder conviction was overturned, a sentence at the top of the guidelines’ range because he shot “across the nose” of his partner and endangered others. He did not face a harsher sentence because prosecutors did not request an “upward departure” from the sentencing guidelines.
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Contributing: Rick Rouan, USA TODAY; The Associated Press