Daunte Wright with his 2-year-old son Daunte Jr.. Photo from the Wright family.
By Terrance Turner
April 13, 2021 (updated Dec. 23, Feb. 18)
The Minneapolis police officer who fatally shot an unarmed Black man last April has beeen sentenced. Kim Potter shot and killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, a Minneapolis suburb. On April 13, 2021, she submitted her resignation, effective immediately. Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon has also resigned.
According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the shooting happened around 2 pm on April 11 at N. 63rd and Orchard avenues. Officers stopped Wright because his car had an expired tag. NBC News says Wright “also ran afoul of a Minnesota law that prohibits motorists from hanging air fresheners and other items from their rearview mirrors.”
When officers checked his name, they learned he had a warrant. According to Hennepin County District Court records, a warrant was issued on April 2 after Wright failed to appear in court. He was facing misdemeanor charges of carrying a pistol without a permit and of fleeing police. He was served a court summons, but a TikTok video by comedian Walter Masterson reveals a glaring error: “Daunte Wright had a warrant out for his arrest because the notice for the Zoom hearing was sent to the wrong address,” Masterson said.
That wasn’t the only mistake that police would make. Body camera footage shows three officers approach a white sedan. One officer opens the door, and Wright gets out of the car.
Wright is later shown with his hands behind his back. Another officer approaches while Wright is cuffed and touches his arm. Wright jerks away and tries to get back in the driver’s seat. A struggle ensues. Officer Potter can be heard saying, “I’ll tase you! Taser! Taser. Taser!” But the object pointed at Wright appears to be a gun.
“Holy s–t,” I just shot him,” Potter exclaims on the audio footage. Wright’s car sped off and crashed into another vehicle. Wright died at the scene.
“We train with our handguns on our dominant side and our taser on our weak side,” now-former Chief Gannon said to reporters after the shooting. (Meaning: a right-handed officer wears the firearm on his/her right side.) “As I watched the video and listened to the officer’s commands, it is my belief that the officer had the intention to deploy their Taser, but instead shot Mr. Wright with a single bullet.” (The Hennepin County medical examiner says Wright died of a gunshot wound to the chest.)
Somehow, Kim Potter confused her handgun with her Taser — a baffling mistake, given her decades of experience. According to Axios, Potter had been with the Brooklyn Center Police Department for 26 years. She was initially placed on administrative leave after the shooting. But now she’s leaving the force for good. In a letter to city officials, Potter wrote: “I have loved every minute of being a police officer and serving this community to the best of my ability, but I believe it is in the best interest of the community, the department and my fellow officers if I resign immediately.”
Gannon has also submitted a resignation letter. But his explanation of Potter’s behavior doesn’t make sense to Daunte Wright’s grieving father. “I lost my son, he’s never coming back,” Daunte Wright’s father, Aubrey Wright, told ABC News’ Robin Roberts in an exclusive interview on “Good Morning America.” “I can’t accept that — a mistake, that doesn’t even sound right,” he added. “This officer has been on the force for 26 years. I can’t accept that.”
“He had a 2-year-old son that’s not going to be able to play basketball with him. He had sisters and brothers that he loved so much,” Daunte’s mother Katie Wright said. “He just had his whole life taken away from him. We had our hearts pulled out of our chests. He was my baby.”
[April 13, 2021]: Protests broke out that night in and around Minneapolis; a patrol officer says that about 40 people were arrested. Wright’s shooting has heightened already-high tensions in the city; the shooting took place just about 10 miles from where George Floyd was killed last year. The trial of his murderer, former officer Derek Chauvin, is happening now. And today, at a press conference that featured both the Floyd and Wright families, a heartbreaking revelation about the connection between them:
UPDATE (April 15, 2021): Kim Potter was charged yesterday with second-degree manslaughter in the killing of Daunte Wright. According to CBS Minnesota, Potter was arrested and then freed on $100,000 bond. She made her first court appearance today on manslaughter charges.
A manslaughter charge is defined by Minnesota law as “when someone acts with negligence, creating an unreasonable risk that causes death or great bodily harm.” If convicted, Potter faces up to 10 years in prison.
Breaking: Kim Potter has been found guilty of manslaughter in the killing of Daunte Wright. According to NBC News, a Hennepin County jury found Potter guilty of first-degree manslaughter, meaning she improperly used “such force and violence that death of or great bodily harm to any person was reasonably foreseeable.” Jurors also found Potter guilty of second-degree manslaughter, which required a finding of “culpable negligence” that created “unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another.”
The maximum penalty for first-degree manslaughter predicated on reckless use/handling of a firearm is 15 years in prison and/or a $30,000 fine. However, since Potter has no criminal history, Minnesota sentencing guidelines recommend a sentence roughly between 6 and 8.5 years in prison. (The New York Times adds that Potter is unlikely to serve time for the second-degree charge because she has been convicted of the more serious first-degree.) According to CNN, Potter’s sentencing date has been set for Feb. 18, 2022.
The jury — one Black person, two Asian American people and nine white people — convicted her of the first-degree charge by 11:40 am Tuesday. They reached a verdict on the lesser charge at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, according to jury forms read in court. One juror was seen shaking and crying as the verdict was announced, CNN reports.
Potter reportedly showed no emotion as the verdict was read. ABC News says that Potter’s defense had requested she be released on bail in time for Christmas. But the request was denied. Judge Regina Cho ordered Ms. Potter be immediately taken into custody. Potter was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs — the very same courtroom where former officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty of murdering George Floyd.
“We have a degree of accountability for Daunte’s death,” Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison told reporters outside court. “Accountability is not justice. … Justice is beyond the reach that we have in this life for Daunte. But accountability is an important step, a critical, necessary step on the road to justice for us all,” he said.
Ellison said he felt sympathy for Potter and her family but added: “She will be able to correspond with them and sit with them no matter what happens. But the Wrights won’t be able to talk to Daunte.”
UPDATE (Feb. 18, 2022): Kim Potter has been sentenced to just two years in prison for the murder of Daunte Wright. According to CNN, Potter is required to serve two-thirds of that time (or 16 months) of her sentence in prison. With good behavior, she will be eligible for supervised release for the other third. (Potter has been in a women’s state prison since being found guilty. The Associated Press says she has earned credit for 58 days.)
Judge Regina Chu, who issued the decision, said there will be a fine of $1,000 and a surcharge of $78, to be taken from prison wages or else due within 180 days. She also said that Potter will be able to appeal the sentence, which is significantly less than what state sentencing guidelines recommend for someone with no prior criminal record, like Potter. (The guidelines give a judge discretion to sentence convicted offenders with no criminal history roughly between 6 and 8.5 years in prison.)
“This has been an extremely difficult decision,” Chu said before announcing the sentence. “In making my decision, I look to the purposes of incarceration. There are four: retribution, incapacitation, deterrence and rehabilitation. Three of the four would not be served in this case.”
Before being sentenced, Kim Potter emotionally apologized to Wright’s family. “To the family of Daunte Wright, I am so sorry that I brought the death of your son, father, brother, uncle, grandson, nephew and the rest of your family, to your home,” Potter said in a statement. “I am so sorry that I hurt you so badly,” she told Wright’s mother. Judge Chu also became emotional as she handed down the sentence.
Daunte Wright’s family, who had argued for the maximum sentence, said that they were “very disappointed” in the verdict. “Today, the justice system murdered him all over again,” said Katie Wright, Daunte Wright’s mother. “To sit there and watch, pouring my heart out in my victim impact statement that took so long to write — and I reread it over and over again — to not get a response out of the judge at all. But then when it came down … to sentencing Kim Potter, she broke out in tears,” Katie Wright said about Chu appearing to get choked up at the end of the sentencing.
“So once again, we are standing here to say that we’re very disappointed in the outcome. Yes, we got a conviction, and we thank everybody for that. But again, this isn’t OK. This is the problem with our justice system today, and White women tears trumps — trumps — justice.”
Daunte Wright’s father Aubrey Wright said he felt “cheated” and “hurt”. He felt the judge (and others) had been swayed by Potter’s weepy remorse: “It’s like they were so caught up into her feelings and what’s going on with her that they forgot about my son being killed,” he said. “I walked out of this courthouse feeling like people are laughing at us because this lady [Potter] got a slap on the wrist, and we still every night sitting around crying, waiting on my son to come home. I’m upset,” he said.
Family attorney Ben Crump said the family was stunned by the verdict, noting that black officer Mohamed Noor received 12 1/2 years in prison for shooting an unarmed white woman in a similar case in 2017. Crump commented: “What we see today is the legal system in Black and White.”