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Kimberly Potter trial: A look at the case before the trial begins Wednesday

Kimberly Potter, who was a police officer in the city of Brooklyn Center just north of Minneapolis, has pleaded not guilty to first- and second-degree manslaughter charges. Her lawyers have said Potter, 49, mistakenly used her handgun instead of her stun gun in the death of Wright, a 20-year-old shot during a traffic stop.

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MINNEAPOLIS — Opening statements will begin Wednesday, Dec. 8, in the trial of Kimberly Potter .

The former Brooklyn Center police officer is facing manslaughter charges in the shooting death of Daunte Wright — a 20-year-old Black man. Jury selection wrapped up last week.

The jury of seven women and seven men — including the alternates — is predominately white. There are two women of Asian descent and one Black woman. The jurors range in age from their 20s to their 70s.

Judge Regina Chu chose them from an initial pool of around 250 people who filled out detailed questionnaires that asked about their views on race, policing, guns, crime, and other topics. Over more than three days last week, attorneys interviewed a short list of several dozen.

In this image from video, Judge Regina Chu speaks Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis. Screengrab via MPR News

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Potter is heard on body camera video shouting “Taser,” before shooting Wright with her handgun while trying to arrest him during an April traffic stop. Many prospective jurors said they’d seen that video and had a negative impression of both Potter and Wright, who is seen slipping from an officer’s grasp before getting back in his car.

Lead prosecutor Matthew Frank used his final peremptory strike last week to remove a woman who said she had a very unfavorable view of the Black Lives Matter movement, and that it’s not good to question officers’ decisions.

“If you second guess everything that a police officer does, nothing would get done. And they wouldn't be able to keep law and order.”

The next day, both sides agreed to include a man in his 40s who told defense attorney Paul Engh that he'd once considered a law enforcement career, but later settled on information technology.

Regardless of their opinions and backgrounds, all of the jurors selected promised that they’d decide the case solely on the evidence presented in court — not on anything they heard or read elsewhere.

Potter is charged with two separate counts — first- and second-degree manslaughter. Trial attorney Lee Hutton — who’s not involved with the case — says to convict Potter of the more serious charge, the state will have to prove an underlying misdemeanor of reckless handling of a firearm. Hutton says that’s a high bar for prosecutors.

Kimberly Ann Potter.jpg
Kimberly Potter booking photo, Wednesday, April 14, 2021.

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“They have to somehow separate for the jury, the officer’s obligation to the community of keeping them safe. We all know that officers have firearms. We all know that they have Tasers. Now was this use of the firearm reckless?”

The second-degree manslaughter charge alleges that Potter acted with culpable negligence when she fired into Wright’s vehicle. Hutton says that may be easier for prosecutors to prove, in part because there was a woman in Wright’s passenger seat.

Potter’s attorneys do not dispute that she fired the fatal shot. In court documents, they’ve indicated that they may argue that the shooting was an “innocent mistake.”

But Hutton says that could prove difficult for the defense because Potter was a police officer for 26 years and has extensive training in both firearms and Tasers.

“How can that mistake be so innocent in this type of situation? And I’m looking forward to her testimony, and that’s one of the reasons why she’s going to have to testify, so the jurors can understand her mental impressions.”

During jury selection last week, defense attorney Engh said his client will testify, though Judge Chu reminded Potter that she could change her mind at any time.

The judge has said she hopes to conclude the trial before Christmas Eve.

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