Trial of Kim Potter in death of Daunte Wright reaches closing arguments

Closing arguments were set for Monday in the manslaughter trial of Kim Potter, the former Minnesota police officer who says she meant to use her Taser not her gun when she shot and killed Daunte Wright as he tried to drive away from a traffic stop.

The case will go to the mostly white jury after Judge Regina Chu gives final instructions. The judge has told jurors that she will not make them deliberate on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day and they will return after the holiday if necessary.

The defense rested on Friday after Potter told jurors she “didn’t want to hurt anybody”, saying during sometimes tearful testimony she shouted a warning about using her Taser on Wright after she saw fear in a fellow officer’s face.

Potter, 49, testified that she was “sorry it happened”. She said she didn’t remember what she said or everything that happened after the shooting, saying much of her memory of those moments “is missing”.

Potter is charged with first-degree and second-degree manslaughter in the 11 April death of Wright, a 20-year-old Black motorist who was pulled over in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center for having expired license tags and an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror.

Potter, who was training another officer at the time, said she probably wouldn’t have pulled Wright over if she had been on her own. After that initial encounter, the traffic stop “just went chaotic”, she testified.

“I remember yelling, ‘Taser, Taser, Taser,’ and nothing happened, and then he told me I shot him,” Potter said through tears. Her body camera recorded Wright saying, “Ah, he shot me.”

Potter’s attorneys argued she made a mistake but would have been justified in using deadly force if she had meant to because Sgt Mychal Johnson was at risk of being dragged by Wright’s car.

Prosecutor Erin Eldridge noted that Potter told a defense expert she didn’t know why she drew her Taser. Quoting from the expert’s report, Eldridge said Potter told him: “I don’t have an answer, my brain said grab the Taser.”

Potter testified she didn’t recall saying that.

Prosecutors have argued that Potter had extensive training about Taser use and in use of deadly force, including warnings about confusing the two weapons. Eldridge got Potter to agree that her use-of-force training was a “key component” of being an officer. Potter testified that she was trained on when to use force and how much, and that there was a department policy that dictated what officers could or could not do.

Wright’s death set off angry demonstrations for several days. It happened as another white officer, Derek Chauvin, was standing trial in nearby Minneapolis for the killing of George Floyd.

Before Potter took the stand, a defense witness testified that officers can mistakenly draw guns instead of Tasers under high-stress situations because ingrained training takes over.

Laurence Miller, a psychologist at Florida Atlantic University, said the more someone repeats the same act, the less they have to think about it and there can be circumstances during a stressful situation in which someone’s normal reactions may be “hijacked”.

Some experts are skeptical of the theory. Geoffrey Alpert, a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina who is not involved in the trial, has said there’s no science behind it.

State sentencing guidelines call for just over seven years in prison upon conviction of first-degree manslaughter and four years for second-degree. Prosecutors have said they plan to push for longer sentences.

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