By Sandy Malone and Holly Matkin
Minneapolis, MN – A Hennepin County judge sentenced former Brooklyn Center Police Officer Kim Potter to 24 months in prison for the death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright when she mistook her gun for her Taser last year.
Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu sentenced Potter on Friday to the Department of Corrections for 24 months, two-thirds of which must be served in prison.
Potter will serve time on supervised release after her prison sentence.
She was also given credit for 58 days already served.
Chu ordered her to pay a $1,000 fine and restitution to be determined at a later time.
Prosecutors argued that although Potter didn’t intend to kill Wright, she was still “culpably negligent” and deserved to be sentenced in accordance with the presumptive guidelines of 74 to 103 months in prison.
“We don’t doubt that Ms. Potter has remorse, but this is…a courtroom full of pain and anger,” the prosecution said. “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 trust between law enforcement and the community? What can be done to help the Wright family through their pain and their loss?”
“Remorse alone is not enough,” he added. “We should expect defendants to have remorse.”
Potter’s defense attorney acknowledged Wright’s death is “beyond tragic for everybody involved.”
He praised the Probation Office’s thorough pre-sentence investigation report, both bad and good, and noted the investigator found Potter is amenable to probation.
“This was an unintentional crime. It was an accident. It was a mistake,” defense said.
Potter’s attorney further noted that the frequency of departure from the sentencing guidelines is very high.
In fact, 60 precent of female offenders in the State of Minnesota are not sentenced in accordance with the presumptive guidelines.
There is no risk of recidivism in Potter’s case because she will never be able to work as a law enforcement officer again, her attorney said.
Potter’s attorney further noted she has a massive support system, not only from her family but also evidenced by the boxes of letters and cards people from all over the nation have sent her since the fatal shooting.
Wright’s aggressiveness during the incident also qualified as a mitigating factor, defense lawyers added.
Five of Wright’s family members addressed the court prior to Potter’s sentence being handed down.
Several asked the judge to sentence her to the maximum penalty allowed by law.
“I’ll never be able to forgive you for what you’ve stolen from us,” Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, told the court. “We can’t afford for the defendant to make any more mistakes…You should have done better.”
She further accused Potter of displaying “entitlement and privilege” throughout her trial.
“She never once looked at us,” Katie Wright said, adding that she will continue to fight for her son until “driving while black is no longer a death sentence.”
Chyna Whitaker, the mother of Wright’s two-year-old son, said Potter “executed” her child’s father and left her with “severe PTSD.”
Wright’s sister, Diamond Wright, told the court the shooting was racially motivated.
“One hint of black in our skin makes us a target,” she declared.
Potter tearfully apologized to the Wright family during the sentencing hearing, and spoke directly to his mother at one point.
“My heart is broken for all of you,” she said.
Chu said the situation was one of the saddest she’d heard during her 20 years on the bench.
Chu noted that the sole purpose of a prison sentence for Potter would be retribution and that sentencing guidelines are not mandatory.
“She drew her firearm thinking it was a Taser and ended up killing a young man,” Chu said. “Her conduct cries out for a sentence significantly below the guidelines.”
A jury convicted the 48-year-old Potter, a 26-year veteran of the police force, of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter on Dec. 23, 2021.
Defense attorneys asked the judge to release Potter until sentencing because “she’s not going anywhere and she’s not going to commit a crime,” but Chu ordered the former officer taken into custody immediately just two days before Christmas.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed a 12-page sentencing memo on Tuesday that asked Chu to give Potter seven years and two months behind bars, the presumptive sentence, CNN reported
Ellison wrote in the sentencing memo that the 86-month sentence reflected the “highest regard” for Wright’s life.
“Daunte Wright, and his life must be held in the highest regard as well. The presumptive sentence reflects that seriousness of the loss of his life,” the attorney general wrote.
“In addition, the presumptive sentence reflects the culpability of the Defendant’s recklessness in causing Daunte Wright’s death,” he added.
Potter’s defense lawyers asked Chu to consider letting Potter serve probation instead of prison time, or a sentence significantly shorter than the seven years recommended in the state’s sentencing guidelines, NPR reported.
For the first-degree manslaughter conviction, Potter faced a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and/or a $30,000 fine, according to CNN.
The incident occurred on April 11 when then-Officer Potter and a rookie officer she was training made a traffic stop on a vehicle driven by Wright for expired tabs and an air freshener illegally blocking the driver’s view.
Bodycam video of the incident showed that Wright resisted arrest and jumped back into his car as if to flee when officers told him he had a warrant and tried to arrest him.
The video released by the Brooklyn Center Police Department showed Officer Potter yelled, “Taser! Taser! Taser!” before she discharged her weapon at Wright.
The video showed the officer realized she had shot Wright when he told her so.
Wright died at the scene.
Bodycam video shown at trial demonstrated that Officer Potter immediately felt remorse for her error and fellow officers were concerned that the veteran officer might try to harm herself in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.
Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliot immediately called for Officer Potter to be fired in the wake of the shooting as protests immediately began to ramp up, Bring Me The News reported.
The city’s manager, Curt Boganey, pointed out that Officer Potter had rights and said the city couldn’t just terminate her employment.
“Employees are entitled to due process,” Boganey said.
Elliot responded by firing him.
His firing came shortly after the Brooklyn Center City Council voted 3-2 to pull “command authority” of the BCPD from the city manager and to place it under the control of Elliot, according to Bring Me The News.
Officer Potter was placed on “standard administrative leave” as is protocol for all officer-involved shootings but then immediately submitted her resignation.
Now-former Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon testified at Potter’s trial that he resigned the same day because he refused to fire her.
Potter first became licensed as a Minnesota law enforcement officer in 1995, when she was 22 years old, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
In addition to serving on the department’s negotiation team and being a member of the Law Enforcement Memorial Association, now-former Officer Potter also served as president of the local police union, according to the paper.
She is married to a former Fridley police officer and has two adult sons, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.