© 2024 Ideastream Public Media

1375 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44115
(216) 916-6100 | (877) 399-3307

WKSU is a public media service licensed to Kent State University and operated by Ideastream Public Media.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Kim Potter, the ex-cop convicted in Daunte Wright's death, is sentenced to 2 years

Former Brooklyn Center, Minn., officer Kim Potter, pictured as her guilty verdict was read in December.
Court TV
Former Brooklyn Center, Minn., officer Kim Potter, pictured as her guilty verdict was read in December.

Updated February 18, 2022 at 12:23 PM ET

Kim Potter, the former police officer convicted of manslaughter in the death of Daunte Wright, has been sentenced to two years in state custody, a judge ruled on Friday. Potter will serve 16 months in prison, with the remainder on supervised release.

The sentence was lower than Minnesota's recommended sentencing guidelines — roughly seven years for first-degree manslaughter — after Judge Regina Chu found there to be mitigating factors in the case. Potter has already served 58 days, leaving about 14 months behind bars.

Potter, who apparently mistook her handgun for her Taser when she fatally shot the 20-year-old Black man last year during a traffic stop, was convicted of first- and second-degree manslaughter in a trial in December.

Defense lawyers representing Potter had urged the judge to consider probation or a sentence shorter than the recommended guidelines — the latter of which was ultimately what Chu decided.

Chu listed factors that she said called for a lighter sentence: that Potter intended to draw her Taser instead of her gun; that "the scene was chaotic, tense and rapidly evolving," requiring quick decision-making by Potter; and that Potter's decisions were not driven by personal animosity toward Wright.

"Officer Potter made a mistake that ended tragically," Chu said. "She never intended to hurt anyone. Her conduct cries out for a sentence significantly below the guidelines."

Wright's parents were disappointed and angered by the sentence.

"Kim Potter murdered my son and ... today the justice system murdered him all over again," Katie Wright, Daunte Wright mother, told news outlets, including Minnesota Public Radio. "We're very disappointed in the outcome. Yes, we got a conviction, and we thank everybody for that. But this isn't OK. A white woman's tears trump justice."

Arbuey Wright, Daunte Wright's father, said that he had been cheated.

"They were so tied up into her feelings that they forgot about my son being killed," he said, according to MPR. "This lady got a slap on the wrist, and we sit around every night crying, waiting for our son to come home."

Attorney Ben Crump, who represented the Wright family, said in a statement that the "judge's comments at sentencing showed a clear absence of compassion for the victim in this tragedy and were devastating to the family."

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office prosecuted the case, said he accepted Chu's judgment and he urged others to do so as well.

"I don't ask you to agree with her decision, which takes nothing away from the truth of the jury's verdict," Ellison said in a statement. "I know it is hurtful to loved ones of Daunte Wright. I ask that we remember the beauty of Daunte Wright, to keep his memory in our hearts, and to know that no number of years in prison could ever capture the wonder of this young man's life."

Wright's family described their pain and called for the maximum sentence

In court on Friday morning in Minneapolis, prosecutor Matthew Frank pushed the judge to stick with the presumptive sentence, rather than a shorter one.

"The jury found the defendant guilty of this crime," Frank said. "It wasn't an intent to kill Mr. Wright. But it was culpably negligent. It represents a higher state of culpability."

A departure from the state's sentencing guidelines must be reserved for rare and compelling cases, he said.

"We don't doubt that Ms. Potter has remorse. But ... this is a courtroom full of pain and anger. How do we fix that? What can we do? This is a divided community," Frank said, his voice wavering with emotion. "What can be done to help restore some of the faith and trust between law enforcement and the community? In particular, in this case, what can be done to help the Wright family through their pain and their loss?"

He argued that defendants should be expected to show remorse, but that remorse is not enough: "We should expect defendants to have remorse for more than what has happened to them. We should expect defendants to have remorse in the sense of a feeling of wrongfulness to others. We have seen some evidence of that, but I submit not enough."

In court, members of Wright's family spoke about their painful loss.

His mother, Katie Wright, spoke with hurt and anger. "You took his future, what he could have been, and it was so many things," she said, brushing away tears.

She said she would call Potter only "the defendant," after Potter repeatedly called her son "the driver" during the trial, rather than speaking his name.

"April 11 was the worst day of my life," Katie Wright said. "A police officer who's supposed to serve and protect someone took so much away from us. She took our baby boy with a single gunshot through his heart, and she shattered mine. My life and my world will never ever be the same."

Arbuey Wright described how the family has been riven by sadness since Daunte Wright's killing. "Everything we do as a family ends in tears because all we have is memories left of our son," he said.

"Kim Potter was trained to prevent this kind of thing from ever happening. She was a police officer longer than my son was alive," he said. "I ask that Kim Potter be held accountable and that the maximum sentence be applied, which is incomparable to the life sentence we have been given because of her negligence. My son Daunte's life was taken away way too soon, and he's never coming back."

Potter apologized to Wright's family and to the community

After her defense attorney read letters in support of Potter, Potter herself took the stand to express remorse. She turned to face the Wright family and spoke through tears.

"I'm so sorry that I brought the death of your son, father, brother, uncle, grandson, nephew and the rest of your family," she said. "Katie, I understand a mother's love and I am sorry I broke your heart. My heart is broken for all of you. Earlier when you said that I didn't look at you during the trial, I don't believe I had a right to. I don't even have a right to be in the same room with you."

"I am so sorry that I hurt you so badly. My heart is broken, devastated for all of you. I pray for Daunte and all of you many, many times a day. He is not more than one thought away from my heart, and I have no right for that, for him to be in my heart. I do pray that one day you can find forgiveness, only because hatred is so destructive to all of us. And that I pray peace will always be with all of you and your family," Potter said.

She then apologized to the wider community: "And to the community of Brooklyn Center, I do owe you an apology too. I loved working for you. And I am sorry what has happened to our community since the death of Daunte. And the men and women who work for you still are good, honorable people and will work hard for you."

Factors in Potter's sentencing

Prosecutors had previously acknowledged that Potter, who served 26 years as a police officer and had no prior criminal record, is unlikely to be a repeat offender. Her conviction already ensures that she can no longer work as an officer or carry a gun.

Because of that, prosecutors offered an alternate recommendation for Chu to consider: sentence Potter to serve one year in jail "to reflect the seriousness of Daunte Wright's death," along with 10 years of probation, during which she would speak to law enforcement agencies about the danger of weapons confusion.

In apair of court filings last month, Potter's lawyers cited her "age, her exemplary career, her crime-free life" as reasons she should receive leniency.

Potter is at no risk of recidivism, her lawyers said, writing that she "expressed remorse and apologized to Mr. Wright's family from the stand, and will again at sentencing." Potter would be a "walking target" in prison, they wrote. And a prison sentence for her could exacerbate staffing issues at the Minneapolis Police Department by discouraging potential applicants, they suggested.

In arguing for a lesser prison sentence, Potter's lawyers claimed that Wright's behavior had essentially provoked Potter into committing manslaughter. At the time of the traffic stop, Wright had a warrant for his arrest on a gun-related charge, and he was trying to escape arrest when Potter shot him.

"Without Mr. Wright's violent and aggressive resistence [sic], nothing would have happened. All Mr. Wright had to do was stop, obey lawful commands, and he'd be alive," her lawyers wrote.

Potter's lawyers cited a series of cases in which judges had reached similar conclusions and levied lighter sentences — including that of Rodney King, the Black man beaten by Los Angeles police officers in 1991.

In that case, two officers who were acquitted of state charges were later found guilty by a different jury in a federal civil rights trial.

During the sentencing hearing, the judge cited King's alcohol consumption and "combative" behavior alongside the officers' careers and family lives. He then sentenced the officers to 30 months in prison, far less than what prosecutors had urged. The controversial sentence was later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Potter's prosecutors called the reference to the King beating a matter of "poor taste and judgment," and they disputed that Wright had behaved combatively or aggressively. "He simply tried to get in the driver's seat and drive off," they wrote.

Protests over Daunte Wright's death lasted for days after he was fatally shot by then-Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter.
Kerem Yucel / AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images
Protests over Daunte Wright's death lasted for days after he was fatally shot by then-Brooklyn Center, Minn., police officer Kim Potter.

The fatal traffic stop and manslaughter conviction

Potter, then a 26-year veteran of the police force in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center, Minn., was training a new officer on the afternoon of April 11, 2021. Together, the pair pulled over Wright after noticing expired tabs on his license plate and an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror.

After a polite initial conversation, the officers discovered a warrant for Wright's arrest stemming from a gun charge. They decided to arrest him.

Video footage from body cameras and the squad car dashcam show that Wright was initially cooperative, but as he was being handcuffed, he pulled away and ducked back inside his car.

In the chaotic few seconds that followed, Potter drew her handgun and shouted, "I'll tase you!" and "Taser! Taser! Taser!" before shooting a single bullet into Wright's chest, killing him. Immediately afterward, she appeared shocked and said that she had "grabbed the wrong f***ing gun."

In the trial last December, lawyers for both sides agreed that she had intended to draw her Taser, not her handgun.

But prosecutors convinced the jury that her mistake was so reckless that it was criminal. After several days of deliberation, the jury unanimously convicted her on both of the two manslaughter counts she faced.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.
Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.