MINNEAPOLIS – A Minnesota jury on Monday began deliberating manslaughter charges in the trial against former Minneapolis-area police officer Kim Potter for shooting and killing 20-year-old Daunte Wright in April 2021.
The 12-person jury – made up of six men and six women – heard instructions from Judge Regina Chu on Monday morning, followed by the closing arguments from Assistant District Attorney Erin Eldridge, for the prosecution, and defense attorney Earl Gray. The state's rebuttal was presented by prosecutor Matthew Frank.
At 2:53 p.m. local time, just over one hour after beginning deliberations, the jury returned with a question. In a note, the jury foreperson asked if they could be reminded when Potter was interviewed by Dr. Laurence Miller, a police psychology who met with her shortly after the shooting.
But instead of providing the date and time, Judge Regina Chu told the jury that all the evidence was in, and they should rely on their notes and collective memory.
During closing arguments, prosecutors told jurors that Potter made a "blunder of epic proportions" and did not have "a license to kill."
Eldridge said during her summation that Wright's death was "entirely preventable. Totally avoidable." Claiming it was a mistake is not a defense, she said, pointing out that the words "accident" and "mistake" don't appear in jury instructions.
"Accidents can still be crimes if they occur as a result of reckless or culpable negligence," Eldridge said.
"She drew a deadly weapon," Eldridge said. "She aimed it. She pointed it at Daunte Wright’s chest, and she fired."
As prosecutors have done throughout the three-week trial, Eldridge stressed that Potter, who resigned from the police force two days after the shooting, was a "highly trained" and "highly experienced" 26-year veteran, and said she acted recklessly when she killed Wright.
"She made a series of bad choices that led to her shooting and killing Daunte Wright," Eldridge said. "This was no little oopsie. This was not putting the wrong date on a check. ... This was a colossal screw-up. A blunder of epic proportions."
Although there is a risk every time an officer makes a traffic stop, that didn't justify Potter using her gun on Wright after he pulled away from her and other officers as they were trying to arrest him on an outstanding weapons possession warrant, Eldridge said.
"This case is not about Daunte Wright," Eldridge said. "Daunte Wright is not on trial. He’s not the reason we’re here today."
Eldridge also downplayed testimony from some other officers who described Potter as a good person or said they saw nothing wrong in her actions: "The defendant has found herself in trouble and her police family has her back."
Gray, however, countered during closing arguments that the former Brooklyn Center officer made an honest mistake by pulling her handgun instead of her Taser and that shooting Wright wasn't a crime.
"In the walk of life, nobody’s perfect. Everybody makes mistakes," Gray said. "My gosh, a mistake is not a crime. It just isn’t in our freedom-loving country."
Gray argued that Wright "caused the whole incident" because he tried to flee from police during a traffic stop. Potter mistakenly grabbed her gun instead of her Taser because the traffic stop "was chaos," he said.
"Daunte Wright caused his own death, unfortunately," he asserted.
Potter testified Friday that she "didn’t want to hurt anybody," saying during her sometimes tearful testimony that she shouted a warning about using her Taser on Wright after she saw fear in a fellow officer’s face. She said she was "sorry it happened" and that she doesn’t remember what she said or everything that happened after the shooting, since much of her memory of those moments "is missing."
The defense has argued that Johnson was at risk of being dragged and that Potter would have been justified in choosing to use deadly force. But Eldridge pointed out to jurors that Potter was behind a third officer whom she was training for much of the interaction, and that Johnson didn't come into the view of her camera until after the shot was fired — and then it showed the top of his head as he backed away.
The questioning of Potter's testimony drew an angry response from Gray, who attacked it as soon as his closing argument began — in part by highlighting how jurors were seeing an extremely slowed-down depiction of events that Potter saw in real time.
"Playing the video not at the right speed where it showed chaos, playing it as slow as possible … that’s the rabbit hole of misdirection," Gray said. He also noted that Potter's body camera was mounted on her chest and gave a slightly different perspective than her own vision.
During deliberations, the jury will be sequestered to a local hotel, and will only be allowed to contact family.
Over the course of the trial, the prosecution called 25 witnesses to the stand over six days of testimony. Meanwhile, the defense presented its case over two days and called eight witnesses, including Potter herself.
If a verdict is not reached by Thursday, Dec. 23rd, the jury will be allowed to return home for Christmas Eve and the Christmas holiday. Unless a verdict is reached by that time, deliberations will resume on Monday, Dec. 27th.
The 12-person jury is made up of nine White panelists and three people of color – two Asian women and a Black woman. The alternate jurors are a White man and a White woman.
Potter, 49, has been charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter for fatally shooting Wright during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, a Minneapolis suburb, on April 11, 2021. The 26-year police veteran and other officers, including a trainee, were attempting to arrest Wright when he tried to get back into his vehicle, video shows.
The officers had attempted to stop Wright and then tried to detain him after learning of a warrant for his arrest. Wright, 20, can be seen in a police video climbing back into the driver’s seat of a vehicle as the officers scuffle with him.
In Potter’s body camera footage from the shooting, she can be heard yelling, "I’ll tase you!" and "Taser! Taser! Taser!" before firing her handgun.
Potter had 26 years as a police officer before she left her job just days after the shooting. She faces up to 15 years if convicted on the first-degree charge and up to 10 years if found guilty of the second-degree count.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.