Kimberly Potter, the former Minnesota police officer who was charged with manslaughter for fatally shooting 20-year-old Daunte Wright, is set to stand trial at the end of the year, a judge ruled Monday.
Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu said during a Monday virtual hearing that she found probable cause to support the charges against Potter and set a tentative trial date for Dec. 6.
After a brief delay over technical difficulties, Chu started the hearing by offering condolences to Wright’s family members, who were in virtual attendance. Special Assistant Hennepin County Prosecutor Imran Ali raised concerns about the trial’s start date, citing the amount of discovery and witness selection the state has ahead of it, but Chu signaled that she would try to hold to the early December date.
“It’s to the benefit of everyone to try and expedite this case and try to come to a resolution or trial as quickly as reasonably possible,” Chu said.
Potter, 48, was dressed in a black shirt as she appeared from the office of her defense attorney, Earl Gray. She did not speak apart from acknowledging she consented to the hearing taking place virtually.
Potter, who is White, has not appeared in court since April 15, the day after she was charged with second-degree manslaughter for shooting Wright, who was Black, during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minn., the previous week. Potter had been a police officer for 26 years until she resigned over the shooting and has remained free on bond.
The hearing marks the latest development in a case that drew significant national attention as the trial of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin played out 10 miles away. In the days after Wright’s death, suburban Brooklyn Center was rocked by days of protests that at times unspooled into violent clashes with police.
The shooting also prompted significant changes for the municipality, with the City Council reorganizing its power structure by firing the city manager and turning control of the police department over to the mayor’s office.
Tim Gannon, the Brooklyn Center Police chief, resigned one day after defending Potter’s actions by saying she meant to fire a stun gun but instead made an “accidental discharge” from her firearm.
The footage from the April 11 incident that has been released to the public is a roughly one-minute video clip that came from Potter’s body-worn camera.
The clip, which Gannon played for the public the day after the shooting, shows two male officers approaching Wright’s car – one on either side. After a brief conversation, the officer on the driver’s side takes Wright out of the car and begins to handcuff him. As Wright struggles, Potter approaches from behind to assist and soon threatens to use a stun gun.
In that footage, seven seconds elapse between Potter’s warning and her firing what was not a stun gun but her service weapon. Seconds later, Potter yelled, “Holy s—, I shot him.”
Potter’s case has not seen sustained attention on the level of Chauvin’s, and Potter’s attorney has continually objected to the presence of cameras in the virtual courtroom for her pretrial appearances. At Monday’s hearing, the state once again asked for the trial to be subject to recording and broadcast, while Gray, Potter’s attorney, said he would object.
Attorneys for Wright’s family dispute the police claims that Potter fired a gun by mistake, arguing that an officer with her level of experience and training should be able to distinguish a black service weapon from a bright yellow stun gun, the latter of which is typically worn on the officer’s left hip, under department guidelines.
Wright’s family has previously stated that anything short of a murder charge against Potter would be a disappointment.
If convicted, Potter’s second-degree manslaughter charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison; under Minnesota sentencing guidelines, Potter probably would serve closer to four years because of her lack of criminal history.
That Potter is facing any charges is relatively unusual because 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.