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Ex-cop Kimberly Potter sentenced to 2 years in prison in Daunte Wright killing

Former Brooklyn Center police officer was convicted in April 2021 shooting death

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Former Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, police officer Kimberly Potter sits behind a desk during her sentencing on Friday for the 2021 killing of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop.
Screenshot of Court TV video via MPR News
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter was sentenced Friday to two years in prison in the killing of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop last year.

The sentence falls at the lower end of the sentencing guidelines. In December, a jury convicted Potter of first- and second-degree manslaughter. She’s expected to spend about two-thirds of that behind bars. With time already served, that leaves about 14 months remaining.

“This is a cop who made a tragic mistake,” Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu said as she sentenced Potter. “She drew her firearm thinking it was a Taser and ended up killing a young man.”

Chu said the trial evidence left it undisputed that Potter never intended to use her firearm and that the scene was “chaotic, tense and rapidly evolving … officer Potter was required to make a split-second judgment,” a mitigating factor in her sentence.

The judge made it clear that this case was different than the 2020 killing of George Floyd while in police custody and the 2017 killing of 911 caller Justine Ruszczyk by Minneapolis police officers, cases that led to much stiffer sentences for the officers convicted.

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Daunte Wright's parents arrive at the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, for the sentencing of Kimberly Potter, the former police officer convicted in the killing of Wright in 2021.
Kerem Yucel for MPR News

Chu called the Wright killing “one of the saddest cases I’ve had in my 20 years on the bench.”

Just prior to the sentencing, a remorseful Potter tearfully told Wright’s mother Katie, “I understand a mother’s love and I’m sorry I broke your heart. My heart is broken for all of you,” adding, “I do pray that one day you can find forgiveness, only because hatred is destructive to all of us. I am so sorry.”

Speaking before the sentencing, Wright’s parents delivered heart-wrenching words as they spoke warmly of their son and the void left by his killing.

Katie Wright told the court she would never be able to forgive Potter for only referring to Daunte in court as the driver and not saying his name. “You took his future,” she said. “She failed Daunte, our family and our community.”

Wearing a pin with his son's picture, Arbuey Wright noted Daunte’s son, now 2, had only a short time together.

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Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who was shot by white officer Kimberly Potter of Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, during a traffic stop April 11, 2021.
Photo provided by family /Star Tribune / TNS

“It hurts my heart that Daunte will not have these memories with Daunte Jr., he said. "Everything we do as a family ends in tears, because all we have is memories left of our son."

Wright’s mother said she was especially angered by Potter’s prison mug shot that shows her smiling. Potter attorney Paul Engh said later that Potter was asked to smile when the photo was taken at the women’s prison in Shakopee and it was not meant to be disrespectful.

Prosecutors initially said they’d seek a sentence longer than state guidelines call for, but now say Potter should get seven years — the presumptive term for someone with no criminal record. Defense attorneys are asking for probation.

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Arguing for a sentence with no prison time, Engh said Potter has a large support system and lived a virtuous life in line with her Catholic values. He said she’s received three boxes of cards from supporters, and he read a few in court.

A common refrain among the letters, he noted: If we send officers to prison for mistakes, no one will want to be one.

‘Taser! Taser! Taser!’

Wright’s fatal police encounter with Potter began as a routine Sunday afternoon traffic stop in Brooklyn Center.

Potter and the officer she was training pulled Wright’s car over for an air freshener hanging from his car's rear view mirror and for expired license plate tabs. A third officer also arrived on the scene.

Running a background check, they found Wright had an outstanding warrant for failure to appear on a gross misdemeanor weapons violation.

As he stood outside the car, the officers told Wright he was under arrest. As they began to handcuff him, Wright slipped away and jumped back into the driver’s seat.

On police camera video, Potter can be heard telling Wright “I’ll tase ya” while holding her 9 mm handgun in her right hand and pointing it at Wright as officers try to keep Wright from driving away.

She yells “Taser! Taser! Taser!” just before firing a single bullet into Wright’s chest; he drove off but crashed shortly after. Potter, 49, is heard saying on the video. “I grabbed the wrong (expletive) gun … I’m going to go to prison.”

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Potter later told investigators she had intended to draw her Taser to subdue Wright but unintentionally drew her service weapon.

The shooting in April 2021 led to a week of sometimes violent protests as former officer Derek Chauvin’s trial in the killing of George Floyd was still underway. Prosecutors did not characterize Potter’s shooting of Wright as racially motivated.

Defense attorneys said Potter made a mistake, and was reacting to Wright’s sudden move to get in his car while other officers struggled with him.

Potter’s prosecutors never characterized Wright's killing as racially motivated, but civil rights advocates around the case pointed to a long history of officers not being held accountable when they kill unarmed Black people.

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