Daunte Wright: Who was the 20-year-old Black man shot dead by Kim Potter in Minneapolis suburb?

Daunte Wright is survived by a two-year-old son

Mayank Aggarwal,Megan Sheets
Friday 18 February 2022 18:05 GMT
Daunte Wright was ‘accidentally’ shot dead by officer who was trying to taser him
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The death of a 20-year-old Black man, Daunte Wright, in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, in April 2021 sparked protests against the police even as tensions were already running high due to the murder trial of a police officer over George Floyd’s death a year earlier.

Floyd’s death in May 2020 prompted waves of protests across the US and had a profound impact on the Black Lives Matter movement globally – but nowhere has it affected communities more than in Minneapolis.

On 11 April 2021, outcry again returned to the city after Wright was shot dead by officer Kim Potter in Brooklyn Center, a northwestern suburb with a population of about 30,000.

Potter was found guilty of first- and second-degree manslaughter on 23 December and was sentenced to 24 months - 16 in prison and the rest under supervised release - on 18 February.

During the trial, the mostly white jury was presented with starkly different views of Potter, with the defence claiming that she made an innocent mistake by pulling her handgun instead of her Taser and the prosecution portraying her as a veteran cop who had gone through extensive training that warned of such a mix-up.

Daunte Wright with his two-year-old son
Daunte Wright with his two-year-old son (Family Handout)

In closing arguments on 20 December, prosecutors told the jury that being a police officer does not mean having “a licence to kill” and that Wright’s death was the result of a “colossal screw-up”.

The case is about the “reckless handling of her firearm” and “culpable negligence” by the defendant, said Prosecutor Erin Eldridge, arguing that she put “four people directly in harm’s way” when she opened fire on the 20-year-old.

She added that something being “an accident” does not mean it isn’t a crime, with intent to kill Wright not part of the charges.

In the defence’s closing arguments, attorney Earl Gray argued that Wright “caused the whole incident” by failing to comply with the officers when they pulled him over.

He argued that Potter also had the right to use deadly force because she believed her fellow officer was in danger.

Potter was the last witness called to the stand for the defence where she broke down in tears and apologised for Wright’s death.

“I’m sorry it happened. I’m sorry,” she sobbed. “I didn’t want to hurt anybody!”

On the day of the shooting, Potter and another officer she was training stopped Wright’s car at a traffic signal because it had an expired registration tag, and an air freshener was hanging from the rearview mirror.

Once he was pulled over, Potter determined that Wright had an outstanding warrant against him on a gross misdemeanour charge, and tried to arrest him along with two other officers.

As Wright attempted to drive away, Potter can be heard on body camera video saying “taser, taser taser” before firing, followed by: “I grabbed the wrong [expletive] gun.”

The video also showed her holding her handgun for about five seconds before firing.

Kim Potter in her booking photo
Kim Potter in her booking photo (Hennepin County Sheriff)

Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, said he had called her as he was being pulled over and that she heard scuffling before the call ended. When she called back, she said, Wright’s girlfriend told her that he had been shot by police.

The 20-year-old is survived by his son, who is aged less than two, Daunte Wright Jr. Some social media photographs and videos showed his brother Damik Wright holding Daunte Jr up in the air near the scene of the shooting.

During a YouTube livestream of the protest, Wright’s sister could be heard saying of her brother: “He was so goofy. He just makes everybody happy.

“They took my brother away from me. … I’m so hurt, they really just took him. … I still can’t believe it. I’m still feeling like I’m going to go home and see him. It really hurts.”

Potter resigned two days after the shooting in “the best interest of the community”.

Seven months later, Potter listened silently in the Hennepin County Court as a jury returned guilty verdicts on the charges of first- and second-degree manslaughter on Thursday, 23 December, after more than 27 hours of deliberations.

The more serious charge of first-degree manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison while second-degree manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 10 years.

However, under Minnesota law, people with no prior criminal record – like Potter – typically receive far lower than the maximum sentences.

Sentencing guidelines recommend between 6 and 8.5 years in prison for first-degree manslaughter and between 3.5 to nearly 5 years for second-degree manslaughter.

Prosecutors ultimately requested that Potter serve the presumptive sentence of 86 months in prison, while the defence asked that she only receive probation.

A judge handed down a reduced sentence of 24 months at her sentencing hearing on 18 February after Potter spoke in court to apologise to Wright’s family.

Katie Wright demanded Potter face the maximum penalty under the law as she delivered a victim impact statement at the hearing.

She described being held back from her son in the moments after the shooting and watching Potter’s distress.

“She referred to Daunte over and over again as the driver, as if killing him wasn’t enough to dehumanize him,” she said. “She never once said his name, and for that, I’ll never be able to forgive you. I’ll never be able to forgive you for what you’ve stolen from us.”

The mother continued: “A police officer who was supposed to serve and protect someone took so much from us. She took our baby boy with a single gunshot through his heart, and she shattered mine. My life and my world will never, ever be the same.

Addressing the judge, she said: “Your honor, I’m asking you to hold the defendant to the highest accountability, to the person of authority who portrayed her badge not only when she shot Daunte but when she rolled around on the ground crying for herself, ‘I’m going to prison’.

“She should have in fact said, ‘Please go save him. How is he doing? Is he okay? Please help him.’ She didn’t even try, your honor. She didn’t try to save him. You should have done better.

“Your honor, I’m stuck with three questions I ask myself: How do you show remorse when you’re smiling in your mugshot after being sentenced to manslaughter after taking my son’s life? How do you say you’re sorry with no tears? How much time is my son’s life worth?”

Wright’s father, Arbuey Wright, also gave a statement about how Potter “damaged my whole family’s heart”.

“Everything we do as a family ends in tears, because all we have is memories left of our son. What should be happy times turns into sadness,” he said as he fought back tears.

He spoke about Potter’s 26 years in law enforcement, saying: “Kim Potter was trained, and was trained to prevent this type of thing from ever happening. She was a police officer longer than my son was alive. I ask that Kim Potter be held accountable and that the maximum sentence be applied, which is incomparable to the life sentence we have been given because [of] her negligence.

“My son Daunte’s life was taken away way too soon and he’s never coming back.”

Potter offered an apology to the family before the sentence was handed down, saying: “I am so sorry that I brought the death of your son, father, brother, uncle, grandson, nephew and the rest of your family to your home.”

Addressing Wright’s mother, she added: “Katie, I understand a 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 a right to be in the same room with you. I am so sorry that I hurt you so badly.”

She continued: “I pray for Daunte and all of you many, many times a day. He is not more than one thought away from my heart and I have no right for that, for him to be in my heart.

“And I do pray that one day, you can find forgiveness, only because hatred is so destructive to all of us. And that I pray peace will always be with you and your family. Again, I am so sorry.

“And to the community of Brooklyn Center, I owe you all an apology to you. I loved working for you and I am sorry what’s happened to our community since the death of Daunte. And the men and women who work for you still are good, honorable people and will work hard for you.”

Explaining her reasoning behind the sentence, Judge Regina Chu noted that Potter had “honourably served for 26 years as a police officer. She was a respected officer and consistently went over and above the call of duty.”

She added Potter’s conduct “was significantly less serious than your typical manslaughter case”.

“Officer Potter never intended to use her firearm. She mistakenly drew her firearm at all times intending to use her Taser,” she said.

Judge Chu appeared to be fighting back tears as she spoke, calling this “one of the saddest cases I’ve had in 20 years on the bench”.

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