Former police officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop has been sentenced to two years in prison far less than the standard of around seven years for manslaughter on Friday, after a judge ruled clemency was warranted because the officer intended to fire his Taser and not his gun.
Jurors convicted the former officer, Kimberly Potter, of two counts of manslaughter in December. They found she had acted recklessly when she shot Mr Wright in the chest after warning him she was going to stun him and shouting, “Taser! Taser! Taser!”
Ms. Potter, a 49-year-old white woman who served with the Brooklyn Center, Minnesota police, resigned two days after the shooting in April, during a period of chaotic protests over the murder of Mr. Wright, a 20-year-old man 1 year old black. She has been imprisoned since the December 23 guilty verdict.
Judge Regina M. Chu sentenced Ms Potter only on the most serious charge, first-degree manslaughter, under Minnesota law. The state’s sentencing guidelines list the count as having an alleged sentence of just over seven years in prison, although the maximum sentence is 15 years. Judge Chu said the case was very different from most manslaughter cases, as well as other high-profile police killings.
“He’s not a cop convicted of murder for using his knee to pin a person down for nine and a half minutes while he was panting,” the judge said, referring to Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis officer who was found guilty of murdering George. Floyd. She added: “He was a cop who made a tragic mistake. She pulled out her gun, thinking it was a Taser, and ended up killing a young man.
Judge Chu handed down the sentence after Ms Potter sobbed as she apologized to Mr Wright’s family outside court on Friday.
“I’m so sorry that I caused your son’s death,” Ms Potter said. Speaking directly to Mr Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, she said: “Katie, I understand a mother’s love and I’m sorry for breaking your heart. My heart is broken for all of you.
Those close to Mr Wright said they were outraged by the leniency of the two-year sentence Ms Potter received.
Daunte Wright’s father, Arbuey Wright, held back tears as he described feeling cheated and hurt. He said the judge seemed to care more about Ms Potter than Mr Wright and his family.
“They were so into her feelings and what’s going on with her that they forgot my son was killed,” he said. “We actually thought we were going to get some justice.”
Ben Crump, a lawyer representing Mr Wright’s family, said many people have received longer prison sentences for selling marijuana.
It is rare for police officers to be convicted and sentenced to prison terms for killing people. And prosecutions are unusual in the few situations where officers have said they thought they were tasering.
In 15 previous cases over the past two decades in which officers said they mixed up their weapons, three were convicted of a felony, including two officers who fired the fatal shots. Johannes Mehserle, a transit officer who shot and killed Oscar Grant III at an Oakland, Calif., train station in 2009, was sentenced to two years in prison. Robert Bates, a volunteer sheriff’s deputy in Tulsa, Okla., was sentenced to four years in prison after shooting and killing a man as he attempted to fire his Taser.
Prosecutors in the office of Keith Ellison, the Minnesota attorney general, had suggested they would ask Judge Chu to sentence Ms Potter to a longer prison term than the standard sentence of 6.2 to 8.6 years, but in a new court filing this week, they instead said a sentence in that range would be appropriate.
Ms Potter’s lawyers asked the judge to sentence Ms Potter to probation, arguing that she would be a ‘walking target’ in jail and that the prosecution’s sentencing request was ‘a political statement’. One of her lawyers, Paul Engh, told the sentencing hearing on Friday that Ms Potter had suffered ‘deterioration in her mental and physical health’ during the nearly two months she was jailed in solitary confinement for fear of being attacked.
Mr Wright’s parents and siblings had asked Judge Chu to sentence Ms Potter to the maximum possible prison term.
Understanding the murder of Daunte Wright
“Daunte meant the world to me,” Arbuey Wright told the court before sentencing. “He was handsome, he was my son, he was my prince. Daunte was my reason. He was my reason to do better.
Chyna Whitaker, the mother of Daunte Wright’s 2-year-old son Daunte Jr., said she became a single mother “not by choice, but by force”, and that Mrs. Potter took “the best of Daunte Jr. friend away from him.
It is likely that Mrs. Potter will be released from prison after around 14 months, in April or May 2023. Under Minnesota law, prisoners are generally released on probation after serving two-thirds of their sentence, and Mrs. Potter will be credited with the 58 days she has already spent in detention since her conviction.
Prosecutors in Ms Potter’s case have acknowledged the April 11 shooting was a mistake, and in the moments after she was shot, body cam footage showed her screaming that she had grabbed the wrong weapon and falling to the ground in tears.
Mr Wright was driving with a friend to a car wash in a Minneapolis suburb when officer Anthony Luckey, who was being trained by Ms Potter, noticed Mr Wright had used the wrong turn signal. Officer Luckey followed Mr. Wright’s white Buick and noticed that the car had an air freshener hanging from the rear view mirror, which is against the law in many states, and that its license plate had a expired registration sticker.
Officers ran Mr Wright’s name through a police database and determined that a judge had recently issued a warrant for his arrest because he missed a court date for unlawfully detaining a gun and fleeing from the police. He got out of the car at Constable Luckey’s request, but when the constable went to handcuff him, Mr. Wright got out of his grip and returned to the driver’s seat.
As Officer Luckey struggled with Mr. Wright, trying to stop him from leaving, Mrs. Potter shouted “I’m going to taser you!” while drawing his department-issued Glock instead. Moments later, she fatally shot Mr Wright, whose car traveled a short time down the street before hitting an oncoming car.
Daunte Demetrius Wright had played basketball in high school and later worked at Taco Bell and a shoe store with his father. Her son, Daunte Jr., was 1 when Mr. Wright was killed, and his mother testified at Mrs. Potter’s trial that Mr. Wright had recently enrolled in vocational school and was considering becoming a carpenter.