The jury returned guilty verdicts on the charges of first- and second-degree manslaughter at the Hennepin County Courthouse on Thursday, 23 December, after more than 27 hours of deliberations.
Ms Potter, 49, a former Brooklyn Center Police Department officer, listened in silence as the verdict was read out more than seven months after she mistook her gun for her taser and shot Wright during a traffic stop in the Minneapolis suburb.
The more serious charge of first-degree manslaughter required the prosecution to prove that Ms Potter caused Wright’s death while committing the misdemeanour crime of reckless handling of a firearm. It carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and/or a $30,000 fine.
The second-degree manslaughter charge required the prosecution to prove that she caused Wright’s death through culpable negligence, meaning she created an unreasonable risk and consciously took a chance of causing death or great bodily harm when she used her firearm. This charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years and/or a $20,000 fine.
The jury was presented with starkly different views of Ms Potter, with the defence saying 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.
In closing arguments, prosecutors said she is guilty of “recklessness” and “culpable negligence” and that she endangered not only Wright but her fellow officers and Wright’s girlfriend when she shot him.
Ms Potter’s defence said she had the right to use deadly force to protect her fellow officers and that Wright “caused the whole incident” by failing to follow their commands.
The incident at issue began when Ms 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, jurors heard.
Once he was pulled over, Ms Potter determined that Wright had an outstanding warrant against him on a misdemeanour weapons charge, and tried along with two other officers to arrest him.
As Wright attempted to drive away, Ms Potter can be heard on body camera video saying “taser, taser taser” before firing her handgun.
In the aftermath, she was heard shouting: “I grabbed the wrong [expletive] gun.”
The video, shown during the trial from multiple angles, also showed her holding her handgun for about five seconds before firing.
Ms Potter resigned two days after the shooting saying it was in “the best interest of the community”.
The incident sparked widespread protests in the Minneapolis area, where tensions were already high as another white police officer, Derek Chauvin, was at the time facing trial for the 2020 murder of George Floyd, a Black man.
During jury selection, attorneys went through potential jurors looking at their attitudes toward Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests and policing just as in Chauvin’s trial through questionnaires filled out by them.
Around 200 potential jurors responded to questionnaires similar to the ones given out during Chauvin’s trial. In the questionnaire, jurors were asked to provide information on what they already know about the case and whether they have positive or negative impressions about Ms Potter and Wright.
They were also asked whether they participated in protests following Wright’s death, if they carried any signs in these protests and what these signs said.
Potential jury members were also asked whether anyone they know had been injured or if their property was damaged due to BLM protests.
Questions also revolved around policing, whether they have a positive or negative view about policing and whether they believed that the police should be defunded.
Additional reporting by agencies
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