The former Minnesota police officer charged with second-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center made her first court appearance on Thursday as the family called for “full accountability” for his death.
Kim Potter, wearing a plaid shirt, confirmed her presence during a brief online hearing and waved to the judge from a table in her lawyer’s office. Potter, 48, was not asked any questions about the shooting or her intended plea.
Hennepin County Judge Paul Scoggin set the next court date for May 17 and ordered Potter, who is out on a $100,000 US bond, not to use firearms or explosives for the duration of her case.
Potter and Brooklyn Center Police Department Chief Tim Gannon both resigned earlier this week.
Black community leaders and family members of Wright are calling for more serious charges against Potter, comparing her case to the murder charge brought against a Black officer who killed a white woman in nearby Minneapolis.
“Unfortunately, there’s never going to be justice for us,” Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, said Thursday ahead of Potter’s court appearance. “Justice isn’t even a word to me. I do want accountability.”
Wright family attorney Ben Crump said “full accountability, to get equal justice” is all the family wants — “nothing more, nothing less.”
“The question has always remained in America, can minorities get the same equal justice under the law when white police kill us?” Crump said.
Wright’s death has been followed by protests every night this week outside the city’s police station, with some demonstrators hurling objects at officers who have responded at times with gas and rubber bullets before clearing the scene with a riot line. Hundreds of protesters gathered again Thursday night, shouting obscenities at police and shaking the security fence, hours after police in Chicago released graphic body camera video of an officer fatally shooting 13-year-old Adam Toledo in March.
“It is happening in every single city, every single day across the country,” Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told protesters earlier in the evening, before leading them in a chant of “Say his name! Adam Toledo!”
Protesters also tied air fresheners to the fencing at the police station, a nod to Wright’s mother saying that her son told her he had been pulled over for the air freshener dangling from his mirror. Police say Wright was stopped for expired registration.
Brooklyn City officials also announced a 10 p.m.-6 a.m. curfew for the small, working-class city just outside Minneapolis — but made the announcement only 90 minutes before it was set to go into affect.
Comparisons to 2017 case
Crump and other advocates for Wright point to the 2017 case of Mohamed Noor. The Black former Minneapolis police officer fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a white woman who was a dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia, in the alley behind her home after she called 911 to report what she thought was a woman being assaulted.
Noor was convicted of third-degree murder in addition to second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison. Potter’s charge carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.
Noor testified that he fired to protect his partner’s life after hearing a loud bang on the squad car and seeing a woman at his partner’s window raising her arm. Prosecutors criticized Noor for shooting without seeing a weapon or Damond’s hands.
Potter’s attorney has not spoken publicly or returned messages from The Associated Press about the shooting of Wright and the criminal case.
Critics of the police believe the race of those involved played a role in which charges were brought in the Wright case.
“If the officer was Black, perhaps even a minority man, and the victim was a young, white female affluent kid, the chief would have fired him immediately and the county prosecutor would have charged him with murder, without a doubt,” said Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Potter could have been charged with third-degree murder, which carries a 25-year maximum sentence, said Rachel Moran, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. But she noted that one key difference between the Noor and Potter cases is that Potter will likely argue using the gun was a mistake while Noor never said he didn’t intend to use his weapon.
“This is kind of the compromise charge, which isn’t to say it’s not serious. It is,” Moran said. “But they’re not reaching for the most serious charge they could theoretically file. They’re also not washing their hands and saying she has no criminal liability.”
Washington County Attorney Pete Orput did not return messages Thursday seeking comment.
Chauvin trail nearby
Wright’s death came as the broader Minneapolis area nervously awaits the outcome of the murder trial for Derek Chauvin, one of four officers charged in George Floyd’s death. The defence rested Thursday, and closing arguments are expected Monday.
Crump pointed to that trial as having the potential to set a precedent for “police officers being held accountable and sent to prison for killing Black people.”
Police say Wright was pulled over for expired tags on Sunday, but they sought to arrest him after discovering he had an outstanding warrant. The warrant was for his failure to appear in court on charges that he fled from officers and possessed a gun without a permit during an encounter with Minneapolis police in June.
Potter, a 26-year veteran, was training another officer at the time.
Body camera video shows Wright struggling with police after they say they’re going to arrest him, slipping from their grasp and getting back in the vehicle before Potter pulls her gun.
Potter is heard yelling “Taser!” three times before she fires and then says, “Holy shit, I shot him.”
WATCH | This police body cam video shows the moments before the shooting of Daunte Wright. CBC News has edited the video to freeze before Wright is shot, but the audio continues:
Intent isn’t a necessary component of second-degree manslaughter in Minnesota. The charge can be applied in circumstances where a person is suspected of causing a death by “culpable negligence” that creates an unreasonable risk and consciously takes chances to cause a death.
The criminal complaint noted that Potter holstered her handgun on the right side and her Taser on the left. To remove the Taser — which is yellow and has a black grip — Potter would have to use her left hand, the complaint said.
Experts say cases of officers mistakenly firing their gun instead of a Taser are rare, usually less than once a year nationwide.