A former police officer who fired shots that killed a fleeing man in Minnesota in 2021 was sentenced on Feb. 18 to two years in jail.
Kim Potter, who worked for the Brooklyn Center Police Department, faced up to 8 1/2 years in prison, but Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu said the lesser sentence was warranted because Potter was “in the line of duty and doing her job in attempting to lawfully arrest Daunte Wright” when Potter fired the shots.
Potter has said she believed she was drawing her Taser when she unholstered her firearm and pulled the trigger as Wright slipped from another officer’s grasp, entered his vehicle, and started driving away.
Potter’s attorneys pushed for no jail time while prosecutors asked the judge for the presumptive sentence, which would have been just over seven years.
“His life mattered, and that life was taken,” prosecutor Matt Frank said before the sentencing. “His name is Daunte Wright. We have to say his name. He was not just a driver. He was a living 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 an accident. It was a mistake.”
Chu said she believed Potter was trying to protect another officer who could have been dragged and seriously injured if Wright drove away, which played a role in the sentencing decision.
“Officer Potter made a mistake that ended tragically. She never intended to hurt anyone. Her conduct cries out for a sentence significantly below the guidelines,” Chu said.
“This is one of the saddest cases I’ve had on my 20 years on the bench,” the judge also said. “On the one hand, a young man was killed and on the other, a respected 26-year veteran police officer made a tragic error by pulling her handgun instead of her Taser.”
Potter was sentenced after being convicted of two counts of first- and second-degree manslaughter charges in the shooting of Daunte Wright on April 11, 2021.
Wright was pulled over because his vehicle registration was not up to date.
Before being sentenced, Potter told family members that she was regretful that she caused the death of Wright.
“Katie, I understand mother’s love and I am sorry I broke your heart. My heart is broken for all of you. Earlier when you said that I didn’t look at you during the trial, I don’t believe I had a right to. I didn’t even have the right to be in the same room with you. I am so sorry that I hurt you so badly. My heart is broken, devastated for all of you,” she said.
Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, said in the court room that she would never forgive Potter.
Speaking to reporters after the sentencing, she said the officer “murdered my son.”
“Today the justice system murdered him all over again,” she added. “To sit there and watch pouring my heart out in my victim impact statement that took so long to write that I rewrote it over and over again, to not get a response out of the judge at all. But then when it came down to convicting, or to sentencing Kim Potter, she broke out in tears.”
Benjamin Crump, the Wright family’s attorney, alleged Potter received a light sentence because she is white, comparing her sentence to the one received by Mohamed Noor, a black former Minneapolis police officer who was sentenced to 57 months in jail for shooting a woman in 2017.
Chu acknowledged some would take issue with the downward departure but said Potter’s case was different from that of Noor and another high-profile case, such as that of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
“This is not a cop found guilty of murder for using his knee to pin down a person for 9 1/2 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 and killing an unarmed woman who approached his squad,” Chu said. “This is a cop who made a tragic mistake.”
Chauvin, who is white, was sentenced to over 22 years in prison for killing George Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis in 2020.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.