Jurors convicted former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter on Thursday of both manslaughter counts filed against her in the April 11 fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, making her the third officer in Minnesota to be convicted of killing a civilian while on duty.
Potter, 49, stood between two of her attorneys and showed little emotion as Hennepin County District Judge Regina Chu read the guilty verdicts for first- and second-degree manslaughter. Upon hearing each verdict, Potter, with her attorneys hands on either shoulder, turned her gaze from the judge to the table below her.
Wright's family let out cries each time; his mother, Katie Bryant, broke into sobs after the first guilty verdict. Potter's husband, Jeff Potter, and their two grown sons watched in the courtroom, clasping all of their hands together.
Potter displayed no obvious reaction as her attorneys argued unsuccessfully against Chu's decision to immediately arrest her and hold her without bail to await sentencing. But as she walked to a sheriff's deputy and placed her hands behind her back her husband, a retired police officer, called out.
"I love you, Kim!" he said.
"I love you," Potter replied quietly.
Defense attorneys Paul Engh and Earl Gray briefly comforted Potter before she was led into a back room in handcuffs. She is being held at the women's prison in Shakopee in administrative solitary confinement separated from other inmates, presumably out of concern for her safety.
Potter's sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 18. Engh declined to comment on the verdicts. Gray, who shook his head throughout Thursday's proceeding and briefly rested his head on the attorneys' table, did not return a message seeking comment.
Outside the courthouse Wright's family members and supporters erupted in celebration. Wright's parents spoke about the convictions shortly afterwards with Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office led the prosecution with assistance from the Hennepin County Attorney's Office.
"Oh my gosh, the moment that we heard guilty on the manslaughter one — emotions, every single emotion that you can imagine just running through your body at that moment," Bryant said. "I kind of let out a yelp because it was built up... Now we've been able to process it. We want to thank the entire prosecution team. We want to thank community support — everybody who's been out there who has supported us in this long fight for accountability."
Bryant declined to comment when asked what she thought of Potter's testimony last week during which Potter broke down sobbing and apologized twice. Wright's father, Arbuey Wright, appeared overcome with emotion and stepped away from the podium.
Ellison said the verdicts provided "a measure of accountability," but that "justice is beyond our reach for Daunte" because that could only be fulfilled by restoring his life.
"I'm very mindful today that there will be an empty chair at the Wright family dinner table during the holidays," Ellison said. "That saddens me and I once again extend my deepest condolences to them."
Ellison also addressed Potter and told the broader law enforcement community not to be discouraged. Holding their peer accountable, he said, "doesn't diminish you." Asked about his take on Potter's testimony, Ellison said, "I think it was a good sign that she was remorseful."
"I wish nothing but the best for her and her family," he said. "But the truth is she will be able to correspond with them and visit with them no matter what happens. The Wrights won't be able to talk to Daunte."
Police had pulled over Wright's car for expired tags and a dangling air freshener and discovered an arrest warrant for carrying a gun without a permit and a temporary restraining order filed against him by a woman. Wright had a female passenger with him at the time.
Wright broke free of an officer, Anthony Luckey, attempting to handcuff him and jumped back into his car. Then-Sgt. Mychal Johnson was standing outside the front passenger door and had reached into the vehicle to prevent Wright from shifting it into drive. Potter's body worn camera showed her warning Wright twice that she was going to Tase him before she shot him once in the chest with her handgun while yelling, "Taser! Taser! Taser!"
Potter's defense argued that she meant to use her Taser instead of her handgun. They told jurors she had the legal right to use a Taser or deadly force because Wright resisted arrest and put officers' lives at risk. Wright contributed to his own death by using marijuana and disobeying orders, Potter's defense argued.
Prosecutors argued that Potter acted recklessly and negligently. They told jurors she received copious training during her 26-year career and should have known better, and that even deploying a Taser was inappropriate for the situation due to the risks it posed to others. Prosecutors meticulously walked through the differences between Potter's Taser and handgun at trial and encouraged jurors to handle the deactivated weapons during their deliberations.
The sequestered jury of six women and six men reached their verdicts in about 27 hours of deliberations spread over four days. They received the case about 12:45 p.m. Monday after hearing eight days of testimony. They appeared deadlocked at 4 p.m. Tuesday, asking Chu for guidance about how to proceed, and were sent back into deliberations.
Jurors reached a verdict on second-degree manslaughter at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, and a verdict on first-degree manslaughter at 11:40 a.m. Thursday.
"The twelve of you are our heroes in this case," Chu told the jurors after reading their verdicts aloud. "I am so proud of you. You should be proud of yourselves."
The juror who handed over their verdict forms, a woman in her 40s who worked in IT as a project manager, cried at the judge's remarks and shook with emotion as jurors stood to leave the courtroom.
After jurors had been dismissed, Engh and Gray argued that Potter should not be arrested until after her sentencing, noting that she was not a danger to others and that she had abided by the terms of her bail throughout the case.
"It is the Christmas holiday season," Engh said. "She is a devoted Catholic no less, and there is no point to incarcerate her at this point in time."
"She's not going to run, she's obviously not going to commit any more crimes," Gray said.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank said it's customary to immediately arrest defendants convicted of such serious charges.
"I recognize your arguments, Mr. Engh and Mr. Gray," Chu said, "but I cannot treat this case any differently than any other case."
Defendants with no criminal history such as Potter would face about seven years in prison for first-degree manslaughter and four years for second-degree manslaughter, according to state sentencing guidelines.
Prosecutors intend to argue for a longer term than recommended by the guidelines in light of "aggravating factors" they still must prove to the judge at a later date.
Potter's attorneys said in court Thursday that they will seek a lighter sentence than the guidelines recommend.
"She is amenable to probation," Engh said. "Her remorse and regret for the incident is overwhelming."
While she awaits sentencing, Potter is being held in a cell measuring roughly 10 feet by 11 feet and is beginning a 14-day quarantine because of the pandemic, said state Department of Corrections spokesman Nicholas Kimball. The Shakopee facility and all state prisons are barring visitors until at least Jan. 17 because of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
Pandemic restrictions aside, Potter will be permitted time out of her room for phone calls, recreation, cleaning and will have access to spiritual care resources, books and other materials as requested or needed, Kimball said.