Kim Potter, a former Minnesota police officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop last year, was sentenced to two years in prison.
Potter, who claimed she mistook her handgun for her Taser when she fatally shot the 20-year-old black man, was found guilty of first and second degree manslaughter at a trial in December.
Handing down a sentence, which was significantly less than that sought by the prosecution, Judge Regina Chu described it as “one of the saddest cases I have had in 20 years on the bench”.
The judge, appearing to burst into tears as she spoke, said Potter had “honourably served 26 years as a police officer. She was a respected officer and she always went above and beyond the call of duty.
Justifying the lesser sentence, she added that Potter’s conduct “was significantly less serious than your typical case of manslaughter.”
“Officer Potter never intended to use her gun. She mistakenly drew her gun at any time intending to use her Taser,” she said .
Under Minnesota law, Potter will serve two-thirds of his sentence in prison and the remainder on supervised probation.
The sentencing followed a tearful statement made before sentencing Katie Wright, Daunte’s mother, asked the court to “hold the defendant to the utmost responsibility”.
“She took a grandson, a brother, an uncle, a cousin, a friend. She took a son from her father, a son from her mother, but above all she took a father from her son,” she said.
Ms Wright chastised Potter for referring to Daunte Wright as a “driver” throughout the trial, rather than using his name, saying it dehumanized him.
“She never said her name. And for that, I can never forgive you. And I can never forgive you for what you stole from us,” she said.
“She let Duante, our family and our community down. She didn’t help Daunte,” she said.
Mr Wright was killed in the Brooklyn Center neighborhood of Minnesota after officers arrested him for having expired license tags and an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror. The shooting, which came amid Derek Chauvin’s murder trial in the murder of George Floyd, sparked days of protests outside the Brooklyn Center police station, marked by tear gas and clashes between protesters and police.
Evidence at Potter’s trial showed officers learned he had an outstanding warrant for a weapons possession charge and they attempted to arrest him when he walked away. The video showed Potter repeatedly yelling that she was going to use her Taser on Wright, but she had her gun drawn and shot him in the chest.
Potter’s defense attorney, Paul Engh, told Judge Regina Chu that Wright’s death was “beyond tragic for everyone involved”. But, he added, “It was an unintentional crime. It was an accident. It was a mistake.”
Mr Engh held up a box displaying what he said were among “thousands” of letters and cards in support of Potter.
“People took the time to write to him,” Mr Engh said. “It’s unheard of for a defendant. I dare say no one in this room has ever seen anything like it.”
He urged the judge to sentence Potter to probation, saying sentencing guidelines are often not followed because they are too high for many defendants, including first-time offenders.
But the prosecution instead argued for the maximum sentence, given Potter’s death and culpable negligence.
“His life mattered, and that life was taken,” prosecutor Matt Frank said Friday. “His name is Daunte Wright. We have to say his name. He wasn’t just a driver. He was a living human being. A life.”
The Independent Gt