Five jurors were added Wednesday in the second day of the manslaughter trial of Kimberly Potter, bringing to nine the number chosen so far to hear the case against the former Brooklyn Center police officer who shot Daunte Wright during what started as a traffic stop in April.
Four jurors were chosen Tuesday among the 11 who were questioned, with most excused by Hennepin County District Judge Regina Chu because they couldn't remain unbiased, had safety concerns about serving on the jury or for other reasons.
Five more are needed to fill the panel of 14, with the last two being alternates. Opening statements are expected to be made on Dec. 8, but the judge suggested she might move that date up in light of the progress in seating jurors.
The fifth juror seated Wednesday, a young woman, was questioned briefly by both the defense and the prosecution and assured the court that she could judge the case solely on the evidence presented during the trial.
"I understand what I need to do," she said. "Follow the law."
Questioned about efforts to defund police, the woman said she "somewhat" disagrees, adding, "You're always going to need police officers, and there is always going to be bad things happening."
The sixth juror selected is a mother and teacher who routinely carries a compact Taser for protection and has a state-issued permit to carry a firearm in public.
She said "not necessarily," when asked whether she obtained her permit out of a safety concern. Guns are "also used for sport and a hobby," she said.
The woman said she has seen on television the police body camera video of Potter's encounter with Wright and called it "a terrible situation ... because it's continuing to happen." She explained that she was referring to other incidents of police killing civilians around the country.
She described the scene where Wright was shot as chaotic but disagrees that officers should not be second-guessed about their actions on duty because "this is a servitude job, and when you get in this situation, you have to understand that this is a tough job."
The seventh juror chosen sat on a jury about 10 years ago involving trespassing allegations against protesters, but assured the court that his experience would have no affect on his ability to be an unbiased juror.
The man said on the jury questionnaire he had "somewhat negative" impressions of both Potter and Wright.
He wrote of Wright: "I don't condone fleeing from a police officer." As for Potter: "Your actions should be more thought out."
The man said he has a neutral feeling about the pro-police Blue Lives Matter movement, saying it "seemed like a marketing aspect to counter Black Lives Matter."
The eighth juror selected says he trusts the police "until proven otherwise. I expect them to protect me. I don't really have a reason not to trust them until otherwise, depending on the circumstances, I guess."
Prosecutor Matthew Frank asked how the man, a nurse and property manager, can put aside the civil unrest in the Twin Cities since last year while deliberating with other jurors.
"Based on the evidence and what is presented to me as a juror, I'd make a decision from there," he said.
The man said he wife was a clerk for a judge many years ago and also worked in a public defenders office, but he was confident her background in law would not influence him as a juror.
The ninth juror seated said she would rather not be on the jury, explaining, "I have a lot of friends and family that are very opinionated on the matter. … I do have a lot of those influences around me."
She also said the trial would force her to reschedule some of her work and educational responsibilities, saying, "The timing would not ... help my current and trajectory and would hinder that."
Even so, she continued, the woman said "I certainly can" be an unbiased juror and serve because "I believe it's a civic duty."
One of Potter's attorneys, Paul Engh, revealed while questioning one potential juror that Potter would testify during the trial. Her defense has said she mistook her handgun for her Taser when she shot Wright on April 11 as he broke free of an officer trying to handcuff him, jumped into his car and attempted to flee.
The defense used one of its peremptory strikes late Wednesday morning and eliminated a Minneapolis man who wrote in the juror questionnaire "grabbing your gun and firing ... seems like a very stupid mistake."
Defense attorney Earl Gray pointed out that the man underlined the last few words of the answer.
Gray also quizzed the man on whether Wright being Black and Potter being white would influence his ability to be an unbiased juror, given that the man wrote in the questionnaire that "I do believe minorities have been and are treated unfairly in the country" by the judicial system.
"I think I could fairly judge" the case regardless of the racial difference between Wright and Potter, he said. Gray's next comment in open court was to use a strike and send the potential juror home.
Gray saved one of his strikes Wednesday afternoon, when he asked a woman whether she would have a bias against Potter because of her sympathies for Wright and others who have been shot by police in the United States.
"I think I might be leaning that way, right," the woman said. Chu said it was that answer that led her to dismiss the potential juror.
The prosecution spent one of its strikes after questioning a man who expressed strong support and respect for police and disappointment about property damage and harm to people during recent periods of civil unrest in Minneapolis.
Addressing whether law enforcement treats Black civilians differently than others, the man said, "I haven't seen any evidence that they treat them differently than anybody else.
"Black, white; doesn't matter?" Frank asked. "Correct," the man responded.
Chu dismissed a woman who has been battling chronic nausea during her nearly seven months of pregnancy. Under defense questioning, the woman could not ensure that her nausea would end up putting her in the hospital, as it has several times before.
The defense requested the judge to excuse the woman over the objections of the prosecution. Before she was dismissed, the woman did say she knows that a lot of people in her south Minneapolis community "have a negative view of the police, but I think it's a worldwide issue, [but] not every officer is bad or racist or out to kill people of color."
Frank used the prosecution's last of three peremptory strikes in order to excuse a woman who voiced firm support for police and worries about "the violence that has been going around in the downtown Minneapolis area," where the courthouse is located.
"If you second guess everything a police officer does, nothing would get done and we wouldn't be able to keep law and order, I guess," said the woman, who owns a gun and has worked as a security guard at her church.
Pressed by Frank, the woman still insisted that "once I get the facts, I can go through them and make a fair decision. I'm not one that would be willy-nilly or you're innocent or whatever."
Potter, 49, was wearing a longish white and purple tie-dyed shirt and black pants. It's unclear whether from the defense table she has a direct view of the prospective jurors when being questioned.
During questioning, she would glance back and forth between the attorneys at the podium and the witness box, where the potential jurors are being questioned.
Potter confirmed as court opened Wednesday morning that she intends to testify:
"Do you understand it is totally your decision as to whether or not you testify?" Chu asked
"Yes I do, Your Honor." Potter said.
"Have you had enough time to think about this?"
"Yes ma'am, I wish to testify."
"If you change your mind after the state rests you can do that." Chu said, adding that if Potter opts not to testify, a jury instruction can be added that Potter has no obligation to prove her innocence.
Potter, 49, is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter for firing a single shot at Wright, 20, on that Sunday afternoon. Her attorneys, Engh and Earl Gray, plan to call a psychologist who will testify about "slip and capture errors," during which a dominant behavior overrides a less dominant one.
The Minnesota Attorney General's Office and Hennepin County Attorney's Office, led by Frank, have argued that Potter was trained to recognize the difference between the two weapons and acted negligently.
Police body camera footage captured the moment, showing Potter firing her handgun at Wright as she yelled, "Taser! Taser! Taser!" Wright was stopped for expired tabs, and police discovered there was a warrant for his arrest on a gross misdemeanor weapons charge.
Of the jury candidates questioned Tuesday, seven said they had either a "very negative" or "somewhat negative" impression of Potter. One expressed a "somewhat positive" impression of her; the rest were neutral or were not asked the question. Most said they could set aside what they had learned about the case and decide it based on the evidence presented in court.
The court summoned for this case 453 prospective jurors — 127 more than the number for the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted in April of murdering George Floyd in 2020. Frank was among the key prosecutors who persuaded the jury to find Chauvin guilty.