Daunte Wright

A Look at the Charges Ex-Minnesota Officer Faces in Daunte Wright Death

Prosecutors will seek to prove that Kim Potter committed first- and second-degree manslaughter when she killed the 20-year-old Black man during an April 11 traffic stop

Bruce Bisping | Star Tribune via Getty Images

A white suburban Minneapolis police officer charged with manslaughter in the death of Daunte Wright, a Black man, said she meant to use her Taser to try to stop him from fleeing during an attempted arrest but accidentally grabbed her gun instead.

A jury has been seated and opening statements began Wednesday. Prosecutors will seek to prove that Kim Potter, who quit the Brooklyn Center police force two days after the shooting, committed first- and second-degree manslaughter when she killed the 20-year-old Black man during an April 11 traffic stop. Here's a look at the charges and potential penalties:

THE CHARGES

First-degree manslaughter in this case means prosecutors allege that Potter caused Wright's death while committing a misdemeanor — the “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.”

The second-degree manslaughter charge alleges that she caused his death “by her culpable negligence," meaning that Potter “caused an unreasonable risk and consciously took a chance of causing death or great bodily harm” to Wright, while using or possessing a firearm.

Neither charge requires prosecutors to prove Potter intended to kill Wright.

The attorney general’s office added the first-degree manslaughter charge after it took over the case, though it fell short of the murder charge that Wright's family and activists wanted.

WHAT WE KNOW

According to the complaint, the officer Potter was training, Anthony Luckey, told Wright they stopped him for the air freshener hanging from his car's rearview mirror and because the vehicle had expired license plate tags. But Luckey ran a check and found that Wright had an outstanding arrest warrant for a weapons violation, so the officers returned to Wright's car to arrest him.

Wright obeyed Luckey’s order to get out, but as Luckey was handcuffing him, Wright pulled away and got back in. As Luckey held onto Wright, Potter said “I’ll tase ya.” Potter's body camera video then shows her holding her handgun in her right hand and pointing it at Wright. Potter repeated “I’ll tase you,” and then two seconds later said “Taser, Taser, Taser.” One second later, she fired a single bullet into Wright’s chest.

“(Expletive)! I grabbed the wrong (expletive) gun,” Potter is heard saying. “I’m going to go to prison.”

Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon released body camera footage of a police shooting incident that led to the killing of 20-year-old Daunte Wright. In the video, the officer who fired the shot that killed Wright can be heard yelling "Taser." Gannon says it is his belief the officer meant to pull a Taser and not a gun and the shooting was an "accidental discharge." The officer has been placed on administrative leave while an investigation is conducted.

POTENTIAL PENALTIES

The maximum for first-degree manslaughter is 15 years; for second-degree, it's 10 years. But Minnesota judges follow sentencing guidelines that normally call for less — just over seven years for first-degree, and four years for second-degree.

But prosecutors have said they will seek a longer sentence due to aggravating factors, which is what they did in former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin's murder trial for killing George Floyd.

The longest sentences that could conceivably stick on appeal are double the top of the guidelines range. But that's more than the statutory maximum of 15 years for first-degree manslaughter, so 15 years would be the cap for Potter if she's convicted. The realistic maximum on the lesser charge would be 9 1/2 years.

Presuming good behavior, Minnesota offenders typically serve two-thirds of their time in prison and one-third on supervised release.

2 days after a verdict in the Derek Chauvin trial, family and leaders mourned at the funeral of Daunte Wright, who was shot and killed by a police officer during an April 11 traffic stop. "This country's still got a problem that's got to be fixed before we're all equal," says attorney Thomas Bowers, who represents 1-year-old Daunte Wright Jr. and mother Chyna Whitaker.

RECENT PRECEDENTS

The judge in Chauvin's case sentenced him to 22 1/2 years for second-degree unintentional murder. The presumptive sentence was 12 1/2 years. But Judge Peter Cahill found several aggravating factors, including that Chauvin abused his position of authority and treated Floyd with particular cruelty, and that several children witnessed the crime live. He also said Chauvin knew that kneeling on Floyd's neck was dangerous.

More recently, Judge Kathryn Quaintance resentenced former Minneapolis Officer Mohamed Noor to four years and nine months in prison for second-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Justine Damond Ruszczyk, which was at the top of the guidelines' range. She said she did so because Noor shot “across the nose” of his partner and endangered others. She couldn't sentence him to more because prosecutors did not request an “upward departure” from the sentencing guidelines.

Quaintance originally sentenced Noor to 12 1/2 years for third-degree murder, which was what the guidelines called for, but the Minnesota Supreme Court later clarified the definition of third-degree murder and sent the case back for resentencing only on the manslaughter charge.

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump has stood by and comforted too many families whose Black loved ones have been killed by police or civilian vigilantes — from George Floyd to Daunte Wright to Trayvon Martin. Crump joined LX News host Ashley Holt to discuss how he remains optimistic that our country will win the fight against racism.
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