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Ex-Minnesota police officer Kimberly Potter found guilty of manslaughter in shooting of Daunte Wright

Kimberly Potter, 49, has pleaded not guilty to first- and second-degree manslaughter charges, which carry maximum sentences of 15 and 10 years, respectively.

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Former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter listens as Judge Regina Chu reads her guilty verdict on Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021, in the April shooting death of Daunte Wright.
Screenshot via Court TV via MPR News
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MINNEAPOLIS -- A Minnesota jury on Thursday found former police officer Kimberly Potter guilty of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Black motorist Daunte Wright during a traffic stop at which she mistakenly discharged her handgun instead of her Taser.

A 12-member jury found Potter, 49, guilty of first degree and second degree manslaughter in the death of the 20-year-old Wright, who she killed in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center on April 11 with a bullet to the chest.

The trial for Kimberly Potter concluded Thursday with a conviction.

Potter, who broke down last week on the stand as she testified to her remorse for the shooting, showed little emotion as Judge Regina Chu read the verdict and polled the jury. Potter was taken away in handcuffs after Chu rejected her attorney's plea for her to be allowed to spend Christmas with family.

"I am going to require that she be taken into custody and held without bail," Chu said. "I cannot treat this case any differently than any other case."

The shooting sparked multiple nights of intense demonstrators in Brooklyn Center. It happened just a few miles north of where Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was at the same time standing trial for killing George Floyd, a Black man whose 2020 death during an arrest had set off protests in U.S. cities over racism and police brutality.

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Chauvin was convicted of murder. Both he and Potter are white.

Caught on Potter's body-worn camera, the basic facts of the incident were for the most part not in dispute. Both prosecutors and the defense attorneys agreed that Potter mistakenly drew the wrong weapon and never meant to kill Wright.

At issue was whether the jury would find her actions to be reckless in violation of the state's manslaughter statutes, or chalk up the incident to a tragic mistake that did not warrant criminal liability.

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Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who was shot by white officer Kimberly Potter of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, during a traffic stop April 11, 2021.
Photo provided by family /Star Tribune / TNS

Throughout the trial, prosecutors stressed Potter's 26 years as a police officer, a level of experience they said made her mistake indefensible. They said she disregarded her training, which included Taser-specific courses in the months before the shooting, and took a conscious and unreasonable risk in using any weapon against the unarmed Wright.

Potter's attorneys sought to blame Wright for resisting arrest, which they argued had created a dangerous situation and justified her use of force. While acknowledging her mistake, they said her actions were not criminal because she thought she was using her Taser and was unaware she had drawn her handgun.

The defense also leaned heavily on Dr. Laurence Miller, a psychologist who testified about "action error," or when a person takes one action while intending to do another. Miller said such mistakes were common and can be triggered by stress.

Potter's attorneys also took a chance by putting her on the stand. Potter testified that she was deeply sorry for killing Wright and outlined an otherwise clean record as a police officer. She said she had never discharged her gun before.

"Her remorse and regret for the incident is overwhelming," Paul Engh, one of her attorneys, told the judge in arguing for her to be allowed out on bail until sentencing, which was set for Feb. 18. "She’s not a danger to the public whatsoever."

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To secure a conviction on the first degree manslaughter charge, prosecutors were required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Potter caused Wright's death while committing the misdemeanor offense of recklessly using a firearm, according to Minnesota law.

For second degree manslaughter, the jury was required to find Potter was guilty of "culpable negligence," meaning she created an "unreasonable risk and consciously" took a chance of causing Wright death or serious bodily harm.

The jury agreed to find Potter guilty on the second degree charge on Tuesday morning, and decided on the first degree charge on Thursday morning, Chu told the court.

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