Kim Potter, the former Minnesota police officer who drew a gun instead of a Taser and fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop, was found guilty Thursday of first- and second-degree manslaughter in the young Black man’s death.
Potter, who is White, displayed no emotion as the verdicts were read and was ordered held without bail. One of her lawyers rested his head on his hands at the defense table.
Wright’s parents, Arbuey Wright and Katie Bryant, let out sighs and cries, according to a pool report.
“The moment we heard guilty on manslaughter one emotions, every single emotion that you can imagine just running through your body. I kind of let out a yelp because it was built up in the anticipation,” Bryant told reporters later.
Bryant told CNN on Thursday evening: “We still don’t have Daunte home. And this is just a step forward in the bigger issue with policing and hopefully there has to be no more Dauntes. No more Dauntes and so many more names we chant in our streets.”
Demonstrators – some carrying “Black Lives Matter” signs and portraits of Wright – applauded and cheered outside the court. A brass band played.
Jury deliberated over four days
Jurors deliberated about 27 hours since Monday, when, in closing arguments, a prosecutor described Potter’s actions as a tragic blunder born of recklessness or negligence and the defense characterized the shooting as an honest mistake, not a crime.
The maximum penalty for first-degree manslaughter predicated on reckless use/ handling of a firearm is 15 years in prison. Since Potter, 49, has no criminal history, Minnesota sentencing guidelines recommend a sentence roughly between 6 and 8.5 years in prison.
Judge Regina Chu thanked the jury, which midway through deliberations appeared to struggle to reach a consensus.
“I’m so proud of you. You should be proud of yourselves. Without civic minded citizens like you our system of justice could not function. Thank you for your service. Thank you for your sacrifices.”
A female juror cried, according to the pool report. Another juror comforted her as she trembled and sobbed.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison told reporters that he was saddened “there will be an empty chair at the Wright family dinner during the holidays.”
“We have a degree of accountability for Daunte’s death. Accountability is not justice,” he said. “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.”
Law enforcement officers are held in “high regard” but will also be held to “high standards,” Ellison said.
Of Potter, he said: “She was remorseful. I mean what decent person wouldn’t be brokenhearted and sad if they were involved in something like this… I wish nothing but the best for her and her family.”
Chu denied a request by Potter’s defense lawyers to allow her to go home before sentencing, citing her deep roots in the community.
“I cannot treat this case any differently than any other case,” Chu said.
The former Brooklyn Center police officer was handcuffed and escorted out of the courtroom. Her husband, Jeff, a former law enforcement officer, was heard yelling, “I love you, Kim,” according to a pool report.
“I love you back,” she said.
She was transferred to Minnesota Correctional Facility – Shakopee, about 25 miles southwest of Minneapolis, according to the state Department of Corrections. Sentencing was set for February 18.
Potter yelled ‘Taser’ before shooting Wright
Wright’s shooting on April 11 – during the trial in which former officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd – led to days of unrest in suburban Brooklyn Center after a tumultuous year of coast-to-coast protests over how police treat people of color. Chauvin was found guilty in the same courtroom as Potter.
Wright, 20, was pulled over by police for an expired tag and an illegal air freshener. During the stop, officers learned he had an outstanding warrant and attempted to arrest him, but Wright pulled away and tried to drive off.
As video of the incident shows, Potter yelled “Taser” repeatedly before she shot Wright with her handgun. She then said, “Holy sh*t! I just shot him!” She added: “I grabbed the wrong f**king gun, and I shot him.” She resigned from the department days later.
The case centered on the jury’s interpretation of Potter’s fatal error – whether it was, as the prosecution argued, due to her recklessness and negligence, or whether it was an unfortunate accident that does not rise to the level of a crime, as the defense has argued.
More than 30 witnesses, including Potter herself, took the stand during the trial’s eight days of testimony. An emotional Potter testified for hours and broke down in tears several times as she described the “chaotic” moments that led up to the shooting.
“I was very distraught. I just shot somebody. I’m sorry it happened,” she said, crying, in court. “I’m so sorry.”
Under cross-examination, Potter said Wright had not threatened the officers before she fired. She said she did not remember much of what happened after the shooting but acknowledged she did not help treat Wright’s injuries or check on her fellow officers.
Potter was far from a rogue officer. She testified that before that day she had never deployed her Taser or fired a handgun while on duty, and she had never had a complaint against her.
The former officer described the moments before the shooting as “chaotic” and recalled the “look of fear” of another officer as he struggled with Wright.
“I didn’t want to hurt anybody,” she cried at one point.
Wright’s mom and dad testified
In her closing argument, Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Erin Eldridge said Potter made a series of bad choices during the traffic stop that led to the fatal mix-up.
“Accidents can still be crimes if they occur because of recklessness or culpable negligence,” the prosecutor said. “It’s not a defense to the crimes charged.”
Wright’s mother and father testified for the prosecution.
University of South Carolina School of Law associate professor Seth Stoughton testified for the state, calling Potter’s actions “excessive and inappropriate.”
“The use of deadly force was not appropriate, and the evidence suggests that a reasonable officer in Officer Potter’s position could not have believed it was proportional to the threat at the time,” Stoughton said.
The defense characterized the killing as an unfortunate accident that should not be considered a crime.
“Everybody makes mistakes, nobody’s perfect,” said attorney Earl Gray. “This lady made a mistake and a mistake is not a crime.”
He also argued Potter was within her rights to use deadly force to protect a fellow officer, who was reaching into the vehicle when Wright attempted to drive away.
“Even though she didn’t know she was using it, she had the right to, and that’s what the law is,” he said.
A Taser would have been effective in incapacitating Wright, the first defense witness testified. Still, deadly force was warranted if an officer is partly inside a vehicle as a suspect is attempting to drive away, said Stephen Ijames, a law enforcement expert and former assistant police chief from Missouri.
Potter’s former boss testified he concluded there was “no violation … of policy, procedure, law,” after reviewing body camera and other video following the shooting.
The jury reached its verdict on the first-degree manslaughter count at 11:40 a.m. (12:40 p.m. ET) Thursday, according to Chu. Jurors agreed on the lesser charge Tuesday at 10:30 a.m., she said. The conviction of a police officer is rare.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the day the verdict on the lesser charge was reached. Jurors agreed on it Tuesday.
CNN’s Omar Jimenez, Josh Campbell, Jason Hanna, Eric Levenson, Ashley Killough, Carma Hassan, Brad Parks and Anna-Maja Rappard contributed to this report.