For some lawyers, the 24-month sentence imposed on former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter in the shooting death of Daunte Wright has shown once again how the American justice system treats white defendants differently from blacks, while d others called him reasoned and merciful.
“Every time you think you have a chance for fairness and justice, you get the worst kind of reminders that you’re going to have to fight for every piece,” said AL Brown, a St. Paul-based civil and criminal attorney. , which is Black. “That boy’s life was worth more than 24 months.”
Brown compared Potter to former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor, who fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond in 2017.
“He had the book thrown at him. He’s black Somali; his victim is white,” Brown said. “Kim Potter was slapped on the wrists. She’s white, her victim is black.”
Noor is serving a nearly five-year sentence for second-degree manslaughter. Potter was convicted of first-degree manslaughter, a more serious felony for which state guidelines allow for a sentence of at least six years. Instead, Potter will serve 16 months, the standard two-thirds of his sentence. She will be credited for the two months she has already served since her conviction in December.
Before sentencing Potter, Hennepin County District Judge Regina Chu compared the two former officers. She noted that Noor intentionally fired his handgun as Potter intended to fire his Taser, but accidentally grabbed and fired his handgun.
Brown found more similarities than differences. He said the two former officers killed someone in the line of duty with no intent to kill in a rapidly evolving situation while trying to protect their partners.
Other lawyers said the sentence was appropriate for a 26-year-old official with no criminal history.
Washington County District Attorney Pete Orput, who originally filed a second-degree manslaughter charge against Potter before Attorney General Keith Ellison took over the case and added the first-degree charge, said applauded Chu for “a brave decision that will open him up to judgment.”
He noted that the jury in the case quickly agreed that Potter was guilty of second-degree manslaughter, but deliberated about 20 more hours on the more serious first-degree charge.
Everyone agrees Potter made a mistake, he said. “So how much do you punish that?”
Defense attorney Mike Brandt said the shorter sentence “took a lot of courage, but I think it’s the right thing to do.”
In Potter’s case, she made an “unconscious” decision in a split second and wasn’t intentionally doing anything dangerous.
“If she had had time to think, she would never have pulled the trigger,” he said.
Ayesha Bell Hardaway, associate professor and co-director of the Social Justice Institute at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, was struck by Chu’s call for empathy for Potter.
“That’s something you definitely don’t hear with defendants of color,” Bell Hardaway said. “It was very clear that she was more troubled by what had happened to Kim Potter’s life than Daunte Wright.”
Bell Hardaway called Chu “unprofessional” for choking during sentencing and found it condescending that the judge said, “Daunte Wright’s life mattered.”
Brown agreed, saying, “It appears Judge Chu had a high opinion of the defendant but didn’t give much thought to what the defendant took away from the Wright family.”
In explaining his sentencing decision, Chu noted the four reasons society supports incarceration: retribution, incapacitation, deterrence, and rehabilitation. The judge said Potter did not need to be incapacitated, deterred or rehabilitated, so only retribution applies.
Bell Hardaway said Chu misunderstands deterrence.
“A deterrent is not just for an individual, but it’s meant to be a warning to other potential offenders,” she said.
Criminal defense attorney Joe Tamburino also noted that Chu found it problematic that Potter’s underlying action for the crime was not a conscious choice. Because of this, Tamburino believes Potter has a good chance of successfully appealing the conviction.
In his opinion, Noor’s behavior differed from Potter’s because he intentionally grabbed his gun and fired.
“I give [Chu] a ton of credit because she really considered the individual factors,” Tamburino said.
What was confusing to him and others was the state’s decision to drop its push for a longer sentence. For months, Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office had said prosecutors would seek a longer sentence for Potter due to aggravating factors in her crime, saying she endangered public safety and abused her position of authority. .
But prosecutors dropped the request in recent days, which Tamburino called “completely confusing and backtracking.” In her comments, Chu said she determined there were no aggravating factors in Potter’s case.
Mark Osler, a professor at the University of St. Thomas Law School, was also struck by the decision, saying, “I would like to know what caused the change of heart on the prosecution side.”
Ellison released a written post-sentence statement in which he did not mention the aggravating factors ruling or directly address additional sentencing issues, including whether his office would appeal – an option available due to the discrepancy. of the judge in relation to the directives. However, Ellison’s statement seemed to indicate that he did not want
“I accept his judgment. I urge everyone to accept his judgment,” the statement read in part.
“The judge could have imposed a sentence four times longer and chose not to,” Osler said,
While it may seem short, Osler said, “It’s a very real punishment. It’s definitely not what the victim’s family was hoping for. It’s not one that sends a message about violence against women. black men, but it’s the one that offers real punishment.”
Brown agreed jail is hard, but added, “I think 16 months is real punishment for a much lesser crime.”
Just two months ago, when Potter was sentenced, Brown expressed surprise and hope for a new era of accountability for police officers because a white cop was held responsible for the murder of a black man. He didn’t feel the same Friday.
“I was hopeful at the time when we were at a turning point, but damn…” he said, adding that for black people and people of color, “you can’t ask us to do trust in the system; this is an unreasonable request.
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