Former Brooklyn Center, Minn., police officer Kimberly Potter made her first court appearance Thursday, one day after being charged with second-degree manslaughter for killing 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop Sunday.
Potter appeared in a flannel shirt in the office of her attorney, Earl Gray, for the brief virtual hearing held via Zoom. She objected to having her first court appearance broadcast or photographed. Potter has not appeared in public since the fatal shooting, abruptly resigning from the police force Tuesday. She was charged Wednesday and was briefly jailed before she was released on bond.
Minnesota District Judge Paul Scoggin reminded Potter that, under the terms of her bail, she was not allowed to possess, use or transport firearms, ammunition or explosives. The defense agreed she would appear in person for her next hearing in one month.
During a news conference that ended just before Potter’s hearing, Wright’s family said the loss of their loved one makes justice elusive, no matter what charges the former officer faces.
“We can’t get him back, so why should she get back her life?” Nyesha Wright, Daunte’s aunt, said as the family gathered inside the Minneapolis church where his funeral will be held next week.
Katie Wright, Daunte’s mother, said even the best-case scenario of a conviction will leave the family with an unbearable loss.
“I do want accountability at the highest level, but even then, when that happens – if that even happens – we’re still going to bury our son,” Katie Wright said. “We’re still not going to be able to see our baby boy. So when people say ‘justice,’ I just shake my head.”
The family had previously stated that anything short of a murder charge against Potter would be insufficient. If convicted, Potter’s second-degree manslaughter charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison; under Minnesota sentencing guidelines, Potter would probably serve closer to four years given her lack of criminal history.
That Potter is facing any charges is relatively unusual as fatal shootings by police rarely result in them. Officers fatally shoot about 1,000 people a year, according to a Washington Post database. Most of these people are armed; Wright was not.
Most police shootings are deemed justified, meaning only a small portion of officers ever face charges.
Ben Crump, an attorney for Wright’s family, called the charges against Potter “a sign we’re making progress.” He added, “The journey to justice is a long one.”
Potter and two other officers stopped Wright on Sunday afternoon for allegedly having expired registration tags, police said. After checking his identification and finding an outstanding warrant for a misdemeanor, one officer searched and then tried to handcuff Wright once he was outside of the car. As Wright struggled and tried to sit back in the driver’s seat, Potter approached and warned she would use a Taser on him, according to footage from her body-worn camera that was released Monday.
In that footage, seven seconds elapse between Potter’s warning and her firing what was not a Taser but her service weapon. Seconds later, Potter yelled, “Holy s—, I shot him,” apparently realizing that she had fired her pistol instead of her Taser.
Wright drove a couple of blocks before crashing into another vehicle, police said, and was pronounced dead at the scene. On Monday, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner said Wright died of a gunshot wound to his chest and ruled his death a homicide.
Tim Gannon, the former Brooklyn Center police chief who also resigned Tuesday, said earlier this week that it appears that Potter intended to fire her Taser but instead made an “accidental discharge” from her gun.
Potter, 48, served on the police force for 26 years and served as her police union’s president. Brooklyn Center, located in the Minneapolis suburbs, is home to about 30,000 residents. The shooting happened not far from downtown Minneapolis, where former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is on trial for the death of George Floyd. Nearly a year ago, Floyd died after Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes.
Potter was suspended pending the results of a Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigation and tendered her resignation Tuesday in a brief letter to Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliott. Gannon did the same later that day.
At the news conference before the hearing, Wright’s relatives questioned Potter’s explanation.
“This is a Taser,” Nyesha Wright said, holding up a picture of the yellow stun gun before raising a photo of a black Glock. “But he was killed with this.”
“Please help us get something done. A conviction – something,” she said.
Crump stopped short of directly rebutting the police narrative that Potter’s actions were the result of mistaking her weapons, saying, “I don’t know what’s in her heart, but she used excessive force because he didn’t even need to be Tased.”