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Officer Kimberly Potter's charges increased to 1st-degree manslaughter

Kimberly Potter, who was a police officer for 26 years, says she mistook her gun for her taser when she fatally shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright, a Black man, outside of Minneapolis in April.

Potter web headshots.jpg
Kimberly Potter booking photo, Wednesday, April 14, 2021.
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is adding a first-degree manslaughter charge for ex-cop Kimberly Potter, who shot 20-year-old Daunte Wright dead at a Twin Cities-area traffic stop in April.

In a Thursday, Sept. 2 news release, Ellison said his team would also retain the original second-degree manslaughter charge. In the latest criminal complaint, his office is arguing that Potter, 48, "committed first-degree manslaughter by recklessly handling a firearm when she fatally shot" Wright on April 11.

Potter, who is white, initiated the interaction with Wright, a Black man, when she pulled him over in Brooklyn Center, a northern suburb outside of Minneapolis, for driving a car with expired registration tags and an air freshener dangling from his rearview mirror. Brooklyn Center Police say officers on the scene discovered there was an outstanding warrant for Wright's arrest, and when they attempted to handcuff Wright, he attempted to flee.

That's when Potter, who had been a police officer for 26 years, claims she meant to deploy her taser to stop Wright. She instead used her firearm, shooting him once in the chest before screaming, “Holy s–t! I shot him!” according to body camera footage.

Wright's death came during the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the white Minneapolis Police former-officer who killed George Floyd, a Black man, while on duty in May 2020. Chauvin was ultimately convicted of murder, and Floyd's death, along with Wright's, have fueled rigorous debates over policing and racism in Minnesota.

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Ellison's office announced in May that it would take over Potter's trial from the Washington County Attorney's Office. After taking over Chauvin's trial earlier this year, Ellison's office won a history-making conviction of police officer killing a civilian while on duty.

If convicted of first-degree manslaughter without a prior criminal history, Potter could face between 74 and 103 months in prison, or between roughly six to eight-and-a-half years, up to the discretion of a judge, according to Minnesota's sentencing guidelines. A second-degree manslaughter conviction, by comparison, would result in a sentence between 41 and 57 months, or roughly three to nearly five years.

After being arrested in April, Potter was freed after posting her $100,000 bond. Her trial is set to begin Nov. 30 at the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis — the same venue where Ellison's office tried Chauvin.

Mearhoff is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. You can reach her at smearhoff@forumcomm.com or 651-290-0707.
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