MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Kim Potter, the former suburban Minneapolis police officer who said she mistook her handgun for her Taser when she killed Daunte Wright, was sentenced Friday to two years in prison. Wright’s family denounced the sentence as too lenient and accused the judge of being duped by “tears of a white woman”.
Potter was convicted in December of first- and second-degree manslaughter in the April 11 murder of Wright, a 20-year-old black motorist. She was only convicted of the most serious charge under state law.
Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, said after sentencing that Potter “murdered my son”, adding, “Today the justice system murdered him again.” She also accused the judge of being duped into ‘white woman tears’ after Potter cried during his pre-sentencing statement.
Speaking before sentencing, a tearful Wright said she could never forgive Potter and would only call him ‘the defendant’ because Potter only called her son ‘ the driver” at trial.
“She never said her name once. And for that I can never forgive you. And I can never forgive you for what you stole from us,” said Wright, who also sometimes uses the name of Bryant family.
“Daunte Demetrius Wright, I will continue to fight on your behalf until driving while Black is no longer a death sentence,” she said.
Potter apologized to Wright’s family, then addressed his mother directly: “Katie, I understand a mother’s love. I’m sorry for breaking your heart…my heart is broken and devastated for all of you.
The judge, who handed down a sentence below state guidelines, called it “one of the saddest cases I’ve had in my 20 years on the bench.” Judge Regina Chu said she received “hundreds and hundreds” of letters of support for Potter. “On the one hand, a young man was killed and on the other, a respected 26-year-old veteran police officer made a tragic mistake by drawing his handgun instead of his Taser.”
Chu said the lesser sentence was warranted because Potter was “in the line of duty and doing his job trying to legally arrest Daunte Wright”, and Potter was trying to protect another officer who could have been dragged off and seriously hurt if Wright was gone.
Wright was killed after Brooklyn Center officers arrested him for having expired license tags and an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror. The shooting, which came amid Derek Chauvin’s murder trial in the murder of George Floyd, sparked days of protests outside the Brooklyn Center police station marked by tear gas and clashes between protesters and police.
Wright family lawyer Ben Crump said the family was stunned by the conviction, saying they did not understand why such consideration was given to a white officer in the murder of a young black man when a black officer, Mohamed Noor, received a longer sentence. 2017 for the murder of a white woman, Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
“What we see today is the legal system in black and white.”
But the judge said the case was not the same as other high-profile murders by police.
“He’s not a cop convicted of murder for using his knee to pin a person down for 9 1/2 minutes while out of breath. This is not a cop convicted of manslaughter for intentionally drawing his gun and shooting his partner and killing an unarmed woman who approached his team,” Chu said. “It’s a cop who made a tragic mistake.”
For someone with no criminal history, like Potter, the state’s guidelines for first-degree manslaughter range from just over six years to around 8 and a half years in prison, with the presumed sentence being a little over seven years.
Prosecutors said the alleged sentence was appropriate, but defense attorneys asked for a sentence below the guidelines, including a probation-only sentence.
“His life mattered, and that life was taken,” prosecutor Matt Frank said before sentencing. “His name is Daunte Wright. We have to say his name. He wasn’t just a driver. He was a living human being. A life.”
Defense attorney Paul Engh told the judge that Wright’s death was “beyond tragic for everyone involved”. But, he added: “It was an unintentional crime. It was an accident. It was a mistake.”
Engh said if Potter were to be granted probation, she would be willing to meet with Wright’s family and speak to officers about the Taser mix-ups, as prosecutors suggest.
Engh also held up a box displaying what he said were among “thousands” of letters and cards in support of Potter.
“People took the time to write to him,” Engh said. “It’s unheard of for a defendant. I dare say no one in this room has ever seen anything like it.
Evidence at Potter’s trial showed officers learned he had an outstanding warrant for a weapons possession charge and they attempted to arrest him when he walked away. The video showed Potter repeatedly yelling that she was going to use her Taser on Wright, but she had her gun drawn and shot him in the chest.
Chu said Potter would serve two-thirds of his sentence, or 16 months in prison, with the rest on parole. She got a credit of 58 days.
Potter has been in Shakopee Women’s Prison since the guilty verdict. Her lawyer said on Friday that her mental and physical health had declined because she was isolated for her safety.
Wright’s father and siblings also came to court to talk about their loss.
The mother of Wright’s son, Chyna Whitaker, said Friday that Wright would never get the chance to play ball with her son or see him go to school.
“My son shouldn’t have to wear a ‘rest in peace’ shirt from his dad,” Whitaker said.
The story was corrected to show that Potter was facing a first degree manslaughter conviction, not a first degree murder.
Webber contributed from Fenton, Michigan.
Find full AP coverage of the Daunte Wright case: https://apnews.com/hub/death-of-daunte-wright