Kim Potter on trial for Daunte Wright’s death; legal experts weigh in

The Donlon Report

CHICAGO (NewsNation Now) —  Opening statements were made Wednesday in the trial of former police Officer Kim Potter for the fatal April 11 shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. 

Prosecutors are seeking to prove that Potter, who quit the Brooklyn Center police force two days after the shooting, committed first- and second-degree manslaughter when she killed Wright during a traffic stop. Potter said she meant to use her Taser to try to stop Wright from fleeing during an attempted arrest but accidentally grabbed her gun instead. In body camera footage of the incident, Potter can be heard yelling “Taser” repeatedly before she shot Wright. 

Defense attorneys say that Potter made a mistake, but prosecutors say, Potter, who has been a police officer for more than 20 years, violated her training. 

Criminal psychologist and columnist Dr. Carol Lieberman says she doesn’t believe that Potter will get a fair trial because the trial is in the same courtroom where ex-cop Derek Chauvin was convicted earlier this year of killing George Floyd. 

“This is in the shadow of the George Floyd trial,” said Lieberman who appeared on “The Donlon Report.” “I think that they should have tried to get a change of venue. Certainly, there should have been the jury sequestered; we should have learned that from the George Floyd trial.” 

Criminal defense attorney Trent Copeland, who also joined “The Donlon Report,” said although the trial is in the same courthouse, it’s important for cases like this to stay within the community. 

“Our justice system has to work this way it is designed so that people get a fair trial of people who are in their community of people who are like them, and around them. That is what our justice system is built on,” Copeland said. “We don’t take these cases out of one county or one state to go to another state, particularly when we know that this is a case that is receiving national attention.” 

A mostly white jury was seated last week in the case, which sparked angry demonstrations outside the Brooklyn Center police station last spring just as former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin was on trial 10 miles away for killing Floyd.

In the courtroom Wednesday, prosecutors showed never-before-seen body camera videos to the jury of the fatal shooting. Jurors also heard testimonies from Wright’s mother and police Officer Anthony Luckey, who was training with Potter the day of the shooting. Luckey testified that they pulled Wright over for having expired license plate tags and an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror.

Police then found out that Wright had an outstanding warrant and attempted to place him under arrest. When he resisted, Potter fatally shot him. Copeland said one of the key issues of this case was the police officer’s state of mind. 

“What police officers have to do is to take into account the human frailties,” he said. “He was afraid, but what these officers didn’t think was that he was violent. What these officers didn’t believe was that he possessed a weapon.” 

Lieberman said Wright’s warrants for his arrest could have also played a part in how officers reacted. 

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“This contributes to why it was the whole moment when she took out what she thought was her Taser when he was getting back into the car. And she thought that he was going to drive away and her police colleague was going to be killed. It’s important to know the mindset of Daunte Wright.”

Prosecutors say Potter had extensive training, and it included an explicit warning about confusing a handgun with a Taser that also directed them “to learn the differences between their Taser and firearm to avoid such confusion.”

Potter’s attorney, Paul Engh, said that Potter was within her rights to use deadly force. He said police had reason to believe that Wright might have a gun and that one of the officers had reached inside Wright’s car and was at risk of being dragged if Wright drove away.

The most serious charge against Potter requires prosecutors to prove recklessness, while the lesser charge requires them to prove culpable negligence. Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines call for a prison term of just over seven years on the first-degree manslaughter count and four years on the second-degree one. Prosecutors have said they will seek a longer sentence. 

The trial will resume at 9 a.m. CT on Thursday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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