Posted on February 20, 2022

Court Chaos After Kim Potter Sentencing

Jennifer Smith and Laura Collins, Daily Mail, February 18, 2022

There were chaotic scenes in the Minneapolis courthouse where former police officer Kim Potter was sentenced to 24 months in prison for shooting Daunte Wright, with members of Wright’s family fighting amongst themselves and his mother weeping to reporters that the sentence was too light.

Potter, 48, was sentenced to 24 months behind bars – far less than the maximum of seven years – but she will serve only 14 months, thanks to an eight-month good behavior concession from Judge Regina Chu and two months time served.

In December the former Minneapolis cop was convicted of first degree manslaughter for killing Wright, a 20-year-old black man while trying to arrest him. She and other cops had pulled him over in Brooklyn Center, near Minneapolis, for driving with expired license tags. There was a warrant out for his arrest at the time and he tried to drive away from them, which is why Potter reached for her Taser.

Chu, who has been a judge in Hennepin County since 2002 and was appointed by then-Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura – told Wright’s family they should try and feel ’empathy’ for Potter, and said that she had ‘clearly’ shown remorse since the April 2021 shooting. She quoted Barack Obama and told them to try to ‘walk in someone else’s shoes’.

After the sentence was read out, some of Potter’s supporters stayed around the courthouse as did Daunte Wright’s supporters.

It led to clashes inside with Daunte’s brother Damik squaring off against a Potter supporter. He called the man a ‘b**** a**’ and a ‘f***ot’ and challenged him to ‘go outside’.

Diamond Wright, Daunte’s sister, was put in handcuffs. There were confused reports that she had been fighting with Chyna Whitaker, the mother of Daunte’s two-year-old son. Some reported that she was trying to protect Whitaker from an attack from someone else.

Katie Wright, Daunte’s mother, cried as she said the sentence was not harsh enough.

‘We’re very disappointed in the outcome. This isn’t OK. This is the problem with our justice system. White woman tears trump justice. I thought my white woman tears would be good enough,’ she said.

Potter has already served 58 days in Shakopee, Minnesota women’s prison, which will be applied to her sentence as time served, meaning she will serve a total of 14 more months behind bars.

Wright’s family had tearfully begged Chu to hand down the maximum sentence of seven years. They called the killing a ‘murder’ and said Potter, a mother-of-two and 26-year veteran, showed not enough remorse.

Potter on Friday struggled through tears of her own while she apologized to them. She told them that she prayed for them and Daunte every day. Her lawyers asked for a probation sentence, saying she was no risk to society and could never own a gun again much less be a cop.

Judge Chu said a custodial sentence was necessary but then gave a speech that was sympathetic to cops and, in particular, Potter.

‘I recognize there will be those who disagree with this sentence. This does not in any way diminish Daunte Wright’s life. His life mattered. To those who disagree and feel a longer prison sentence is appropriate, as difficult as it may be, please try to empathize with Ms. Potter’s situation.’

Potter, in her own statement, said: ‘To the family of Daunte Wright. I am so sorry that I brought the death of your son, father brother uncle, and the rest of your family. To your home Katie, I understand a mother’s love and I am sorry I broke your heart. My heart is broken for all of you,’ she sobbed.

But the victim’s mother Katie looked directly at Potter as she told her she would ‘never forgive’ her and asked Judge Regina Chu not to show leniency.

‘She left our world with so much darkness and heartache.

‘The best way I can explain is that I feel a sinking feeling every day that a mother gets when she realizes her kid is missing in a grocery store and you can’t see him, feel him, know if he’s safe. Daunte was only 20. He had so much of his life ahead of him.

‘She took our baby boy with a single gunshot through the heart and she shattered mine. She took his future.

‘I hope the defendant is listening as I speak loud and clear today. And yes, I will call her the defendant.

‘I will not give her the respect of calling her by her name. She referred to Daunte over and over again as “the driver”. As if killing him wasn’t enough to dehumanize him, she never once said his name.

‘For that, I will never be able to forgive you. I will never be able to forgive you for what you have stolen from us.

‘On the one hand, a young man was killed and on the other, a respected 26-year veteran police officer made a tragic error by pulling her handgun instead of her Taser. On one hand, there is a respected 26-year veteran officer who made a tragic error in pulling her handgun instead of her Taser.

‘Thank you to everyone who spoke. I have been profoundly moved by the comments of the Wright family. Daunte was very loved. His son has lost a father, and Mr. and Mrs. Wright, I cannot begin to understand the grief of losing a child. I’m so sorry for your loss.

‘Kimberly Potter honorably served her community for 26 years as a police officer. She was a respected officer and consistently went over and above the call of duty. She is a wife, a mother, an aunt, a granddaughter, a colleague and friend to many.

‘In addition to the letters that were forwarded to me, I received hundreds and hundreds of letters in her support from colleagues, family, friends, acquaintances, community leaders and even strangers. I read them all. They paint a portrait of a woman who touched a lot of people in a good way.

‘I want to talk briefly about the aggravating factors that were brought up in this case. The state initially took the position Ms Potter should receive a sentence above the guidelines and filed a brief in support of two aggravating factors. All parties agreed that I would determine whether aggravating factors existed. I feel compelled to address the grounds for that request because they were made public and I think it is important to note they were not proven in this case.

‘The state did not meet its burden of proof on the first factor. It is based on the defendant causing a greater than normal danger to the passenger in the car, and two other officers when she fired.

‘But the shot only hit Daunte Wright. The passengers and officer were not injured. This case does not involve a greater than normal danger to others.

‘The case did not support its position. In fact, they illustrate why this case does not involve a greater than normal danger to others. In the Fleming case, he fired a gun six times in a park filled with children. In State vs Omaha, defendant fired numerous shots into two apartment buildings. There is no comparison here.

‘The state also did not meets its burden of proof on the second factor. Contrary to the state’s claims, Kimberly Potter did not abuse her position of authority. In fact, it is undisputed Ms. Potter or Office Potter was in the line of duty and doing her job in an attempting to lawfully arrest Daunte Wright on the run when she mistook her gun for her Taser.

‘She drew her Taser legitimately to protect a fellow officer on the other side of the vehicle.

‘Officer Potter conduct was not significantly more serious than that typically turning to defendant’s request for a dispositional departure. There is no question that Ms. Potter is extremely remorseful. She showed that today, when it happened. It is beyond dispute she is amenable to probation. The court retains the discretion to make departure decisions independently.

‘Sentencing guidelines are just that. They are guidelines that inform a judge regarding sentencing for various crimes. They are not set in stone. The court has the discretion.

‘A downward durational departure is justified, if the conduct is significantly less serious than that typically involved in the commission of crime. I find the facts and circumstances here justify a downward departure. Office Potter’s conduct was significantly less serious than your typical manslaughter case. The scene was chaotic, tense and rapidly evolving.

‘She was required to make a split-second judgement. Unlike other manslaughter cases, officer Potter’s actions were not driven by personal animosity toward Daunte Wright. She was acting in the line of duty in effectuating a lawful arrest.

‘This case is highly unusual. The other cases tried in this case are distinguishable. This is not a cop found guilty of murder for using his knee to pin down a person for nine minutes as he gasped for air. This is not a cop found guilty of manslaughter for intentionally drawing his firearm and shooting across his partner and shooting an unarmed person.

‘This is a cop who made a tragic mistake. She drew her firearm thinking it was a Taser and ended up killing a young man.’

‘Ms Potter, will you please rise. It is the sentence and judgement of court you shall be committed to the custody of commissioner of 24 months – you shall serve 16 months in prison and a third unsupervised.

‘This has been an extremely difficult decision. In making my decision, I look to the purposes of incarceration, retribution, deterrence, rehabilitation and incapacitation. Three of the four would not be served in this case.

‘I recognize there will be those who disagree with this sentence. This does not in any way diminish Daunte Wright’s life. His life mattered. To those who disagree and feel a longer prison sentence is appropriate, as difficult as it may be, please try to empathize with Ms. Potter’s situation.

‘As President Barack Obama once said, learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes to see through their eyes, that is how peace begins. It’s up to you to make that happen. Empathy is a quality of character that can change the world. Office Potter was trying to do the right thing.’

‘Of all the jobs in public service, police officers have the most difficult one. They must make snap decisions under tense evolving and ever-changing circumstances. They risk their lives every single day in public service. Officer Potter made a mistake that ended tragically. She never intended to hurt anyone.

‘Her conduct cries out for a sentence significantly below the guidelines.’

‘I hope you’re listening and don’t mistake any of my words. We can’t afford the defendant to make any more mistakes,’ she sobbed.

Wright’s father, Aubrey, also spoke in court.

He said: ‘Everything we do ends in tears. Happy times turn to sadness.

‘I ask that Kim Potter be held accountable and the maximum sentence be applied, which is incomparable to the life sentence we have.

‘My son Daunte’s life was taken away way too soon and he is never coming back. It has affected my whole family,’ he said through tears.

Daunte’s brother, Damik, said: ‘We know the charge was manslaughter but we believe what happened to Daunte was murder.’

His sister, Diamond, spoke as did Chyna Whitaker, the mother of his two-year-old son Daunte Jr.

”Daunte was born 25 weeks premature and had to stay in the NICU for a little over two months. During that time his father and I were very concerned about him making a full recovery.

‘By the grace of God he is still here.

‘He is now two years old and fatherless. Kim Potter took my son’s best friend away from him and things haven’t been the same since. I am now a single mother, not my choice but by force.

‘I show my son pictures and videos of his dad. His face lights up with the biggest smile and he says, “dada”‘ she said.

Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank spoke first and told the judge that while Potter had shown ‘remorse’, more needed to be done to ‘heal’ the divided community.

He suggested that Potter consult with Taser manufacturers to advise them on how they can be confused with guns, and that she could also speak with Wright’s family.

‘We don’t doubt Ms Potter has remorse. This is a courtroom full of pain and anger.

‘How do we fix that? What can we do? This is a divided community. What can be done to help restore some of the faith and the trust between law enforcement and the community.

‘What can be done to help the Wright family through their pain and their loss? What can be done even to help Ms Potter deal with the consequences of what she has done.

‘I submit to the court that the remorse alone is not enough.’

Wright was killed after Brooklyn Center officers pulled him over for having expired license tags and an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror.

The shooting, which came in the midst of Derek Chauvin’s trial on murder charges in George Floyd’s killing, sparked several days of demonstrations outside the Brooklyn Center police station marked by tear gas and clashes between protesters and police.

Evidence at Potter’s trial showed officers learned he had an outstanding warrant for a weapons possession charge and they tried to arrest him when he pulled away.

Video showed Potter shouted several times that she was going to Tase Wright, but she had her gun in her hand and fired one shot into his chest.

Wright drove off again then his car stopped.

When Potter realized she had shot him, she buckled into cries on the sidewalk.

For someone with no criminal history, such as Potter, the state sentencing guidelines for first-degree manslaughter call for a penalty ranging from slightly more than six years to about 8 1/2 years in prison, with the presumptive sentence being just over seven years.

Prosecutors initially argued that aggravating factors warranted a sentence above the guideline range.

They said Potter abused her authority as an officer and that her actions caused a greater-than-normal danger to others.

There is no indication in the court record that they have formally withdrawn that argument, but in a new document they say the presumptive sentence is proper and ‘takes into account the main elements of the conviction: the death of Daunte Wright and Defendant´s recklessness.’

They also said her risk of committing the same crime again is low because she is no longer a police officer, and they said she would do well on probation.

Prosecutor Matt Frank disagreed, but wrote that if the court finds prison isn´t warranted, Potter should get 10 years of probation and be required to spend a year in jail, speak to law enforcement about the dangers of weapons confusion, and speak to Wright´s family about their loss if they want her to do so.

If the court finds that Potter´s case is less serious than the typical first-degree manslaughter case, he wrote, the court should issue a sentence between four and slightly over seven years, the presumptive sentences for second-degree and first-degree manslaughter.

In Minnesota, it’s presumed that inmates who show good behavior will serve two-thirds of their sentence in prison and the rest on supervised release, commonly known as parole.

That means if Potter gets the roughly seven-year presumptive sentence, she would serve about four years and nine months in custody, with the rest on parole.

Potter has been at the state´s women´s prison in Shakopee since the guilty verdict in December.

The Wright family previously said they would ‘never forgive’ her.

In an interview with ABC News after the verdict in December, his father, Aubrey, said: ‘Never. I could never forgive that woman. She took my son away from me.’

He was grateful for the guilty verdict, saying: ‘For us, as a family, it gives us a sense of hope that police in America won’t be able to pull a gun instead of Taser and there hopefully will be no other Dauntes.’