(MINNEAPOLIS) — The former suburban Minneapolis police officer who said she confused her handgun for her Taser when she fatally shot Daunte Wright was sentenced Friday to two years in prison, a penalty below state guidelines after the judge found mitigating factors warranted a lesser sentence.
Kim Potter was convicted of second- and first-degree manslaughter in November for Wright’s murder, an African-American motorist aged 20. According to state law, she was only sentenced on the most serious offense.
Brooklyn Center officers stopped Wright for expired license plates and an aerosol spray hanging from his rearview. Wright was then shot to death. The shooting, which came in the midst of Derek Chauvin’s trial on murder charges in George Floyd’s killing, sparked several days of demonstrations outside the Brooklyn Center police station marked by tear gas and clashes between protesters and police.
Potter is an example of someone who has no criminal records. The guidelines by the state for that offense range between slightly over six and 8 1/2 years imprisonment, while the presumptive sentence is just more than seven years.
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Although the prosecutor ruled that the presumptive sentence was appropriate, the defense attorney requested a sentence lower than the guidelines. This included a probationary sentence.
Judge Regina Chu imposed the sentence after hearing from Wright’s family and Potter.
Wright’s mother said she will never be able to forgive Potter and would only refer to her as “the defendant” because Potter only referred to her 20-year-old son as “the driver” at trial. “She never once said his name. And for that I’ll never be able to forgive you. And I’ll never be able to forgive you for what you’ve stolen from us,” a tearful Wright said.
“A police officer who was supposed to serve and protect so much took so much away from us … My life and my world will never ever be the same again,” she said, adding later: “Daunte Demetrius Wright, I will continue to fight in your name until driving while black is no longer a death sentence.”
Wright’s father and siblings earlier addressed the court to speak of their loss.
The mother of Wright’s son, Chyna Whitaker, said Friday that Wright would never have a chance to play ball with his son, or see him go to school. “My son shouldn’t have to wear a ‘rest in peace’ shirt of his dad,” Whitaker said.
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Prosecutor Matt Frank said Friday that he believed the presumptive sentence was appropriate, given the loss of life and Potter’s culpable negligence. “His life mattered, and that life was taken,” Frank said. “His name is Daunte Wright. His name must be said. He was more than a driver. He was also a human being. A life.”
Defense attorney Paul Engh told the judge that Wright’s death was “beyond tragic for everybody involved.” But, he added: “This was an unintentional crime. It was accidental. It was a mistake.”
Engh held up a box displaying what he said were among “thousands” of letters and cards of support for Potter. “People took the time to write her,” Engh said. “This is unheard of for a defendant. I dare say no one in this room has ever seen anything like this.”
The judge should sentence Potter to probation. He said that sentencing guidelines for first-time offenders are not always followed and are sometimes ignored. He said Potter would be willing to meet with Wright’s family and to speak to police officers about Taser mixups.
Engh also suggested that Potter should be sentenced to probation if she isn’t. Wright was the aggressor and Potter shouldn’t get this sentence. Other officers present at the scene indicated that it was a very dangerous situation, as Wright attempted to drive off.
Evidence at Potter’s trial showed officers learned he had an outstanding warrant for a weapons possession charge and they tried to arrest him when he pulled away. Potter shouted repeatedly that she would use her Taser to attack Wright. But, video showed her holding her gun and firing one shot at Wright’s chest.
Potter has been at the state’s women’s prison in Shakopee since the guilty verdict. According to her attorney, her mental and physical well-being has suffered since she was placed in isolation for her own safety. “If you send her to prison, you will harm her,” Engh said. “We are not in the business of harming defendants.”
In Minnesota, it’s presumed that inmates who show good behavior will serve two-thirds of their sentence in prison and the rest on supervised release, commonly known as parole. If Potter is given the presumptive seven-year sentence, that would mean she will spend four years and nine month in prison, the rest of her sentence on parole.
Webber, Fenton Michigan.