Kim Potter trial: Prosecutor says ‘carrying a badge and a gun is not a licence to kill’ in closing arguments

Closing arguments began Monday morning in the trial of the police officer charged with two counts of manslaughter over the shooting of Black 20-year-old Daunte Wright

Rachel Sharp
Monday 20 December 2021 20:07
Prosecutor in Kim Potter case says carrying a badge is not a 'licence to kill'
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Prosecutors told the court that police officers do not have “a licence to kill” during closing statements in the trial of Kim Potter for shooting dead Black 20-year-old Daunte Wright back on 11 April.

“Carrying a badge and a gun is not a licence to kill,” Assistant Attorney General Erin Eldridge told the jury in Hennepin County Courthouse in Minnesota on Monday morning.

“You don’t get to shoot someone when things don’t go according to plan.”

The jury retired for deliberations on Monday afternoon after hearing closing arguments in the trial of the veteran police officer charged with two counts of manslaughter over the fatal shooting of Mr Wright during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota.

During closing arguments, the prosecutor told jurors that Mr Wright’s death was “avoidable” and was the result of a “colossal screw-up” and a “blunder of epic proportions” by the veteran Brooklyn Center police officer of 26 years.

The case is about the “reckless handling of her firearm” and “culpable negligence” by the defendant, she said.

“She drew a deadly weapon, she aimed it and pointed it at Daunte Wright’s chest and she fired,” she said.

“She used deadly force, she put a bullet through his heart, she killed him.”

Ms Eldridge played slowed-down footage of the incident taken from Ms Potter’s bodyworn camera to show how the defendant put “four people directly in harm’s way” when she opened fire on the father-of-one.

As well as Mr Wright, who was killed by the fatal shot, the prosecutor said Ms Potter also endangered the lives of his girlfriend Alayna Albrecht-Payton and her fellow officers Sergeant Mychal Johnson and Officer Anthony Luckey.

Ms Albrecht-Payton was sitting in the passenger seat of the car, Sergeant Johnson was leaning in to the open passenger side door and Officer Anthony Luckey’s face was close to the open driver side door when Ms Potter fired one shot into the driver’s side of the car at Mr Wright.

The footage, said Ms Eldridge, shows that Officer Luckey was so close to Ms Potter’s firearm that the gun cartridge struck him in the face after she discharged the weapon.

The prosecutor also showed footage from Sergeant Johnson’s bodycam as she disputed the defence’s claims that Ms Potter saved his life when she shot Mr Wright.

Sergeant Johnson was holding the shifter to try to stop Mr Wright from driving away at the time and the defence claim Ms Potter’s use of force was necessary to stop him from being dragged by the vehicle if he had managed to drive off.

Instead, she said Sergeant Johnson was in the "line of fire" of Ms Potter’s shooting and that it was Mr Wright who saved him when “he took a bullet”.

"The defendant didn’t save Johnson’s life," said Ms Eldridge.

“If anyone saved Sergeant Johnson’s life it was Daunte Wright when he took a bullet to the chest.”

Kim Potter breaks down in tears describing moment she shot Daunte Wright

The prosecutor said that there is “no dispute” that Ms Potter is “sorry” for killing Mr Wright but told the jury they must reach their decision “without sympathy”, saying that “even nice people have to follow the law”.

“Of course she’s sorry, of course she feels bad for what she did,” she said.

“There’s no dispute about that but that has no place in your deliberation.”

She added that Mr Wright’s death was “not just a tragedy”, it was “manslaughter”, telling the jury to use their “common sense” and dismiss the defence’s argument that Mr Wright was “to blame for his own death”.

The prosecution pointed to Ms Potter’s 26-year career as a police officer, including 26 years of training on using a gun, 26 years of use of force training and 19 years of training on using a Taser.

Ms Potter “appreciated the risks” of using a firearm, said Ms Eldridge, but “she chose to pull the trigger, she chose to fire, she chose to disregard her training”.

The prosecutor reinforced that Ms Potter is not being accused of intentionally killing Mr Wright but said that “an accident is still a crime” if the officer’s actions were reckless or culpably negligent.

During the closing argument, the prosecutor recalled Ms Potter saying her two sons would be home for the holidays when she took the stand on Friday.

“You know who won’t be home for the holidays? Daunte Wright,” she said.

Daunte Wright, pictured with his infant son, was shot and killed on 11 April

“Daunte Wright’s parents Katie Wright and Aubrey Wright will have an empty seat at their table this holiday season because the defendant shot and killed him on April 11 of this year.

“He was just 20 years old, he had a baby boy of his own. That’s why we’re here today.”

The public “trust the police to safeguard lives”, said Ms Eldridge, and the defendant “shattered that trust when she shattered Daunte Wright’s heart”.

In closing arguments for the defence, Ms Potter’s attorney Earl Gray said it was “absurd” to say that Mr Wright had nothing to do with his own death.

He argued that the “superseding cause of his death” was that he didn’t comply with the police officers and tried to get away when they attempted to arrest him.

“That’s the cause, that’s the cause of this whole incident,” he said.

Mr Gray said that had Mr Wright complied with the officers, then “it was over”.

“The causation was Daunte Wright,” he added, arguing that his client had the right to use deadly force in the situation.

Mr Gray went on to argue that Ms Potter “made a mistake” and that “a mistake is not a crime”.

“Nobody’s perfect. Everyone makes mistakes,” he said, adding that she “didn’t know she had a gun”.

Kim Potter breaking down in tears on the stand as she testifies at her criminal trial

In the state’s rebuttal, Prosecutor Matthew Frank said Ms Potter had her gun out of her holster for seven seconds with the gun pointed in front of her at Mr Wright for five or six of those seconds.

“That’s recklessly handling a firearm,” he said.

Mr Frank urged the jury to look and hold the firearm and the Taser during their deliberations to see the difference between the two weapons as he said the law does not have a defence that someone made a “mistake”.

He argued that Ms Potter’s own testimony in court and actions in the aftermath of the shooting show she did not believe deadly force was necessary.

Body-camera footage played at the trial shows Ms Potter shouting “Taser! Taser! Taser!” before firing one fatal shot which struck Mr Wright in the chest.

Her use of the word “Taser” shows she “did not believe deadly force was necessary”, said Mr Frank.

Following the rebuttal, the defence asked for a mistrial arguing Mr Frank’s statement had been too long. The request was denied by the judge.

Ms Potter has said she mistook her firearm for her Taser when she shot and killed Mr Wright.

The 49-year-old is charged with first degree and second degree manslaughter and has pleaded not guilty.

The defence rested its case on Friday after Ms Potter took the stand where she broke down in tears multiple times and apologised for killing Mr Wright.

“I’m sorry it happened. I’m sorry,” she sobbed.

When prosecutors pressed her about whether she had intended to use deadly force that day, she cried out: “I didn’t want to hurt anybody!”

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