The former suburban Minneapolis police officer who said she confused her handgun for her Taser when she killed Daunte Wright was sentenced Friday to 24 months in prison for manslaughter.
Kim Potter was convicted in December of first- and second-degree manslaughter in the April 11, 2021 killing of Wright, a 20-year-old Black motorist.
For someone with no criminal history, such as Potter, the state guidelines on that charge range from slightly more than six years to about 8 ½ years in prison, with the presumptive sentence being just over seven years.
But in delivering the sentence, Judge Regina Chu said state guidelines were “just that,” and said the circumstances of the case made it far from typical.
“This is one of the saddest cases I’ve had in my 20 years on the bench,” said Judge Regina Chu.
Chu said she believed Potter’s remorse to be genuine and that her actions were reckless but the result of a “tragic mistake.”
In Minnesota, it’s presumed that inmates who show good behaviour will serve two-thirds of their sentence in prison and the rest on supervised release, commonly known as parole.
Attorney Benjamin Crump, representing the Wright family in a civil suit, said in a statement that the family was “deeply disappointed there was not a greater level of accountability.”
Wright’s father, Arbuey, told reporters the sentence was “a slap on the wrist.”
Katie Wright said Kim Potter “murdered my son” and added: “Today the justice system murdered him all over again.”
Emotional statements to the court
Wright in her victim impact statement earlier said she would only refer to Potter as “the defendant” because Potter only referred to her 20-year-old son as “the driver” at trial.
“She never once said his name. And for that I’ll never be able to forgive you. And I’ll never be able to forgive you for what you’ve stolen from us,” a tearful Wright said.
“A police officer who was supposed to serve and protect so much took so much away from us.… My life and my world will never ever be the same again,” she said, adding later: “Daunte Demetrius Wright, I will continue to fight in your name until driving while Black is no longer a death sentence.”
The mother of Wright’s son, Chyna Whitaker, said Friday that Wright would never have a chance to play ball with his son or see him go to school.
“My son shouldn’t have to wear a ‘rest in peace’ shirt of his dad,” Whitaker said.
Wright was killed after Brooklyn Center officers pulled him over for having expired licence tags and an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror.
The shooting — which came in the midst of Derek Chauvin’s trial on murder charges in George Floyd’s killing — sparked several days of demonstrations outside the Brooklyn Center police station, marked by tear gas and clashes between protesters and police.
Potter apologized to Wright’s family in her own statement to the court.
“Katie, I understand a mother’s love and I’m sorry I broke your heart,” said Potter.
“My heart is broken [and] devastated for all of you.”
Defence argues prison would harm Potter
Prosecutor Matt Frank said Friday that he believed the presumptive sentence was appropriate, given the loss of life and Potter’s culpable negligence.
“His life mattered, and that life was taken,” Frank said. “His name is Daunte Wright. We have to say his name. He was not just a driver. He was a living human being. A life.”
The defence had asked for a lesser sentence, including one of probation only, but Frank said: “We are not agreeing to that your honour, but we have to recognize this is a unique case. This is a very difficult case.”
WATCH | Kim Potter hears the verdict in December:
“This was an unintentional crime,” said defence attorney Paul Engh. It was an accident. It was a mistake.”
Engh argued Wright was the aggressor in the series of events that led to the killing. The testimony of other officers on the scene showed it was a dangerous situation because Wright was attempting to drive away, he said.
“This was an aggressive act. I don’t know how it couldn’t be an aggressive act,” said Engh, who also said Potter had the right to defend other officers and that she never should have been charged with first-degree manslaughter.
Evidence at Potter’s trial showed officers learned Wright had an outstanding warrant for a weapons possession charge and they tried to arrest him when he pulled away. Video showed Potter shouted several times that she was going to use her Taser on Wright, but she had her gun in her hand and fired one shot into his chest.
Potter has been at the state’s women’s prison in Shakopee, Minn., since the guilty verdict. Her attorney said Friday that her mental and physical health has declined because she is isolated for her safety.
“If you send her to prison, you will harm her,” Engh said. “We are not in the business of harming defendants.”