MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - Former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter was sentenced Friday morning to two years in prison after a jury found her guilty of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter in the April 2021 shooting death of 20-year-old Daunte Wright.
Presiding Judge Regina Chu said there was no question that Potter was extremely remorseful when she announced a downward departure from state guidelines with a total sentence of 24 months, with 16 months served in prison, and the remaining on supervised release. Potter will receive credit for 58 days served.
Chu said she found the facts and circumstances of the case justified a downward departure from state guidelines. Factors included Potter mistakenly used her firearm, and the killing was unintentional, which constitutes a mitigating stance. Potter’s actions were also not driven towards personal animosity towards Wright.
"This is not a cop found guilty of murder for using his knee to pin down a person for nine minutes as he gasped for air. This is not a cop found guilty of manslaughter for intentionally drawing his firearm and shooting across his partner to kill an unarmed woman as she approached his car," Chu said. "This is a cop who made a tragic mistake. She drew her firearm thinking it was a taser, and ended up killing a young man."
She said she received "hundreds and hundreds" of letters in support of Potter from her colleagues, family and community leaders and members -- all of which were considered.
Minnesota state sentencing guidelines called for a sentence of 86 months in prison, or just over seven years for someone who has no criminal record. Potter’s legal team asked Chu for probation. Experts have said Judge Chu had a wide latitude when ultimately imposing sentence.
During the April 11 traffic stop, Potter, who is white, mistook her firearm for her taser and shot Wright in the chest, killing the 20-year-old Black man. Brooklyn Center police officers pulled Wright over for having expired tabs and hanging an air freshener on his rearview mirror.
"I’ll never be able to forgive you for what you’ve stolen for us," said Daunte Wright's mother Kim Wright during victim impact testimony. "The best way I can explain how I feel every day is to compare it to the sinking feeling a mother gets when she turns around and finds her kid is missing in a grocery store."
After sentencing on Friday, Potter returned to the women's state prison facility in Shakopee, Minn., where she's been held without bail since her conviction in December. FOX 9 learned that she is living in isolated housing and was told by the Department of Corrections that they will re-evaluate her living conditions moving forward. Her release date, as of Friday, is set for April 24, 2023.
The deadly shooting happened during the middle of the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin for the death of George Floyd. The outrage over another police shooting, fueled in part by the quick release of Potter's body camera video clearly showing her firing a gun, led to nights of unrest outside the Brooklyn Center Police Department.
Daunte Wright's family, supporters react to Potter sentencing
Family members and supporters of Daunte Wright reacted to Kim Potter's sentencing at a 4:30 p.m. news conference outside of the Hennepin County Government Center Friday.
Shortly after, the group made their way to the Loring Park neighborhood near downtown Minneapolis, outside a condo that protesters say is the home of Judge Regina Chu, the presiding judge over the Potter case. Some protesters said they are upset and disappointed that Potter was sentenced with a downward departure from the state's sentencing guidelines of 86 months. They disapprove of the lighter sentence and say it is a reflection of the flawed justice system.
Katie Wright, the mother of Daunte Wright, and other family members were among those who joined protesters. FOX 9 estimated about 50 people were outside in blustery winds until the crowd cleared around 6 p.m. Other protesters sat in cars that paraded the streets.
Attorney General Ellison responds: ‘Work for justice continues’
Following the sentence imposed by Judge Chu, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison issued a statement saying that "justice is accountability, compassion, mercy and healing."
In the statement, Ellison said, "Judge Chu heard from the witnesses and attorneys on both sides... I accept her judgment. I urge everyone to accept her judgment. I don’t ask you to agree with her decision, which takes nothing away from the truth of the jury’s verdict… There is no cause for celebration: no one has won."
Ellison reiterated the stance echoed by the family and its attorneys, saying "Daunte’s life mattered… He was a bright young man with big hopes and dreams for himself... He should have had his whole life ahead of him to turn those dreams into reality."
Ellison provided the written statement following the verdict after signaling in the days prior that he would be on hand to take questions from media outlets.
Now the community "can change policy, and work together," Ellison said.
Kim Potter trial
The state trial of Kim Potter took place from Dec. 8-23, 2021. It spanned nine days of evidence and testimony from more than 30 witnesses. Potter recalled the moments before, during and after the deadly traffic stop in an emotional testimony.
After closing statements, 12 jurors deliberated for around 26 hours before deciding to convict Potter on both counts she was charged with.
Daunte Wright shooting
Shortly before 2 p.m. on April 11 on the 6300 block of Orchard Avenue, Brooklyn Center police officers stopped Wright’s vehicle for expired tabs and for the air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror, according to what he told his mother when he called her after being pulled over.
After learning he had a warrant for a gross misdemeanor, Brooklyn Park officer Anthony Luckey and his field training officer, Kim Potter, returned to Wright's vehicle to arrest him. Wright obeyed Luckey's order to get out of the vehicle, but as the officer tried to handcuff him he pulled away and tried to get back into the car.
During the struggle, Potter fired her gun, hitting Wright, who then drove several blocks before crashing into another car. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Daunte Wright (Daunte Wright family)
Body camera footage showed the moments leading up to the deadly shooting. In the video, Potter can be heard yelling, "I'll tase ya," as she pointed her gun at Wright. She repeated, "I'll tase you" and yelled, "Taser, Taser," before firing a single shot. Then police chief Tim Gannon said he believed Potter mistook her gun for her Taser.