December 14, 2021

The Trial of Officer Kim Potter

Race has taken center stage in Minnesota once again as a white cop is charged with unlawfully killing a black man.

We live in tough times — at least where crime and punishment are concerned. Yesterday, at a courthouse in Brooklyn Center, a northern suburb of Minneapolis just a few minutes’ drive from where police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd on May 25, 2020, the trial of another police officer, Kim Potter, concluded its fourth day. Potter, a 48-year-old white woman and a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center Police Department, is charged with having fatally shot Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old black man, when she mistook her taser for her Glock handgun during a traffic stop.

Yesterday, expert witnesses testified that the single shot fired by Potter tore through Wright’s heart and was therefore not survivable. Witnesses also described the differences between Potter’s handgun and her stun gun — differences that included the latter being stubby, yellow, and half the weight of the pistol, and purposely located in a holster on her left side, her non-dominant side.

When those facts are taken together, it’s hard to believe that Potter could’ve mistaken the one for the other, but she did. Of course, Daunte Wright was the master of his own fate that day — just as he was a few months earlier, when he allegedly shoved a pistol into the face of a 20-year-old woman, choked her, and threatened to kill her as he tried to take her rent money.

Had Wright, who was an unequivocally bad person, not resisted arrest and simply complied with the officers’ lawful commands, Potter would’ve had no reason to shoot him, either with a taser or a Glock. He’d been pulled over for driving with an expired registration tab and a hanging air freshener in the back windshield, but he was in no mood to cooperate. As our Nate Jackson noted back in April, “Not only did he resist three officers (including one black male officer) and try to flee in his car, but police were attempting to arrest him on two warrants including a weapons charge for which he’d already skipped his court date. He was a known gang-banger and drug user. In other words, officers were on high alert, as they should have been.”

None of this excuses Potter’s mistake, however, and she’s thus charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter. Prosecutors argue that regardless of her intent, Potter acted recklessly and negligently, and should’ve known the difference between her handgun and her stun gun.

Yes, Potter should’ve known the difference, and her incompetence on that day is hard to fathom. But the bodycam video makes clear it was a terrible accident. A disconsolate Potter is seen rocking back and forth while lying face-down on the grass with her head in her hands and her feet in the street soon after she realizes what she’s done. “Oh my God!” she cries repeatedly as her partner kneels down and tries to console her.

“Kim, take a breath. Kim, you’re OK,” Potter’s partner tells him. “Kim, that guy was trying to take off with me in the car.”

Potter, of course, is not okay. She’s on trial for her life. She’s also expected to take the stand in her defense later this week. This is a tough trial, an awful trial, but it’s obvious that this was an accident. And clear-minded legal analysis makes plain that the reckless manslaughter charges aren’t provable beyond a reasonable doubt — regardless of what Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and his fellow social justice warriors would have us believe.

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