Daunte Wright killing: potential jurors face grilling on policing and protest

When attorneys begin sifting through potential jurors on Tuesday in the trial of a suburban Minneapolis police officer who says she meant to use her Taser instead of her gun when she killed Daunte Wright, they will take a hard look at attitudes toward policing and protest.

The prospective jurors in the manslaughter trial of the former Brooklyn Center officer Kim Potter have responded to questionnaires similar to those used in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial for the killing of George Floyd.

About 200 people were asked to provide extensive information on what they knew about the Potter case and whether they have positive or negative impressions about her and Wright.

Potter shot Wright as he tried to drive away from a traffic stop on 11 April – a time when Chauvin’s trial had begun and tensions were high. Wright’s death sparked several nights of protests in Brooklyn Center, echoing sometimes violent unrest after Floyd’s death in Minneapolis in May 2020.

Potential jurors were asked if they or anyone close to them participated “in any of the demonstrations or marches related to policing that took place in the Twin Cities area in the last two years”. If they participated, they were asked if they carried a sign and what it said. They were asked if they or anyone they knew were injured or suffered property damage.

They were also asked to explain whether they felt that the community had been “positively or negatively affected by any of the demonstrations”. And they were asked to detail whether they or anyone close to them “ever helped support or advocated in favor of or against police reform”. There was also a question on whether they support defunding the police.

Many of the questions were identical at Chauvin’s trial, where jury selection took 11 days. The timeline for Potter’s trial set by the Hennepin county judge Regina Chu includes six days for jury selection, with opening statements set for 8 December.

Potter’s defense team can dismiss up to five jurors without reason, compared with three for the prosecution, which is standard in Minnesota courts. In Chauvin’s case the defense was allowed 15 strikes versus nine. Neither side needs to justify such a strike unless the other side argues it was because of race, ethnicity or gender.

Potter says she made an innocent mistake when she shot Wright. She and two other officers, including one she was training, moved to arrest Wright after learning there was a warrant out for him on a gross misdemeanor charge.

As the 20-year-old Black man tried to drive off, Potter, who is white, can be heard on body-camera video saying “Taser, Taser Taser” followed by “I grabbed the wrong fucking gun”. The video shows her holding her handgun for about five seconds before firing.

Prosecutors charged Potter, who resigned two days after the shooting, with first- and second-degree manslaughter, saying she was trained to know better. The most serious charge requires prosecutors to prove recklessness; the lesser only requires them to prove culpable negligence.

Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines call for a sentence of just over seven years on the first-degree manslaughter count and four years for second-degree. Prosecutors have said they will seek a longer sentence.

Attorneys not involved in the case expect both sides to give jurors a thorough vetting. The pool will come from Hennepin county, which includes Minneapolis. Hennepin is 74% white, 14% Black, 7.5% Asian and 7% Latino, according to census data. Brooklyn Center is one of the most diverse cities in the state, at 46% white, 29% Black, 16% Asian and 15% Latino.

The California civil rights attorney John Burris, who won a $2.8m settlement for the family of a man killed by a transit officer in Oakland who went to prison for grabbing his gun instead of a Taser in 2009, said jurors typically give police the benefit of the doubt.

But he said times have changed since Floyd was killed. If the jury selected for Potter is as diverse as Chauvin’s jury, which was half people of color, he predicted a thoughtful approach.

Mike Brandt, a local attorney, said that if he was on the defense team, he would rather have the case tried in a rural or suburban county. He said Hennepin tends to be “more on the liberal side”, with more people who support holding police accountable.

Alfreda Daniels Juasemai, an activist in Brooklyn Center, said Chauvin’s conviction bolstered faith in the courts. She is hoping for a conviction for Potter, too.

“I have lived in this country long enough to know that getting my hopes up is not going to be good for my mental health,” said Daniels Juasemai. “I do hope that Kim Potter is guilty of something at this point, but I am trying so hard to not expect anything.”

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