Kim Potter, the white former Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, police officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright in April, has been convicted after appearing to mistake her handgun for a Taser during a deadly traffic stop.
Potter, 49, was found guilty on Thursday of first-degree manslaughter and second-degree manslaughter in relation to the April 11 traffic stop that ended with the 20-year-old Black man’s death. The former officer, who resigned from the force after 26 years on the job, now faces 35 years behind bars.
The verdict, reached after 27 hours of deliberation over three days, is just the latest chapter in the ongoing American reckoning over police brutality. It also marked the first major trial for a Minneapolis-area cop who shot and killed a Black man since Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd. Both incidents prompted mass protests in a state critics to say has not done nearly enough to overhaul de-escalation and use-of-force policies.
Throughout her week-long trial, prosecutors argued Potter was criminally negligent. But while testifying in her own defense on Friday, Potter emotionally recounted the events leading up to Wright’s death—and suggested the whole incident may not have even started if the officer she was training didn’t initiate the traffic stop.
“We were trying to keep him from driving away. It just went chaotic,” Potter said through tears. “I remember yelling ‘Taser! Taser! Taser!’ and nothing happened, and then [Officer Anthony Luckey] told me I shot him.”
But while Potter apologized for the incident and insisted she did not “want to hurt anybody,” Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Erin Eldridge stressed during closing arguments that “accidents can still be crimes.” Walking the 12-person jury through the evidence presented during the trial, he emphasized that Potter was not charged with murder because they do not believe the former cop purposefully killed Wright—just that she was criminally reckless.
“This was no little oopsie,” Eldridge said on Monday. “This was not putting the wrong date on a check. This was not entering the wrong password somewhere. This was a colossal screw-up. A blunder of epic proportions.”
To prove the first-degree manslaughter charges under Minnesota law, prosecutors had to convince jurors that Potter caused Wright’s death with “reckless handling or use of a firearm so as to endanger the safety of another with such force and violence that death or great bodily harm to any person was reasonably foreseeable.” For the second-degree charge, prosecutors had to convince jurors that Potter “caused an unreasonable risk” by using a firearm.
Potter’s defense team, however, insisted throughout the trial that Wright was resisting arrest and trying to break away from the officers—potentially meaning the use of force was warranted.
“Daunte Wright caused his own death, unfortunately,” Potter’s lawyer, Earl Gray, said during his closing arguments. “Those are the cold hard facts of the evidence.”
Gray told jurors on Monday that his client did not consciously commit any certain acts and that “a mistake is not a crime.”
His argument mirrored the testimony of Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon, who resigned with Potter the day before she was arrested after publicly suggesting the incident was justified. On the stand, Gannon told jurors that he concluded there was “no violation… of police, procedure, law” after reviewing Potter’s body-camera footage.
Brooklyn Officer Anthony Luckey told jurors last week that he and Potter pulled Wright over for allegedly expired car tabs. After performing a records check, Luckey said, he discovered Wright had an outstanding gross misdemeanor warrant and asked him to step out of the car.
Body-cam footage shows Wright exiting his car and then jumping back inside before Luckey could handcuff him. Potter is then seen grabbing her handgun with her right hand before pointing it at Wright and yelling about the Taser.
About a second later, Potter fired a single shot at Wright’s left side. The criminal complaint against her states that Wright cried out in pain before his car sped off for a few blocks and eventually crashed into another car.
“Oh my God!” Potter is heard telling Luckey in body-cam footage played to jurors. “Holy shit! I just shot him!” In another clip played in court, Potter can be seen sobbing on the ground, insisting she didn’t know what she did.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s office has said Wright died from the gunshot and that his death was a homicide. After the incident, a Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigator examined Potter’s duty belt and concluded that her handgun was holstered on the right side and her Taser on the left. Prosecutors argued to jurors that Potter knew that the gun was on her right-dominant side and her Taser on her left—and recklessly grabbed the wrong one during Wright’s arrest.
“Carrying a badge and a gun is not a license to kill,” Eldridge stressed to jurors.