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Nearly a year after killing Daunte Wright outside Minneapolis, Judge Regina Chu sentenced ex-cop Kim Potter to two years in prison.
Sentenced on the most severe charge of first-degree murder, Friday’s decision came after the state withdrew its request for a longer sentence and instead sought the “presumptive” standard of just over seven years.
In October 2021, Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office requested an “upward sentencing departure.” Citing aggravating circumstances, AG Ellis’s previous request claimed “Defendant’s conduct caused a greater-than-normal danger to the safety of other people, as she fired into a motor vehicle in which a passenger was present and two other officers were in close proximity while the vehicle was operational on a busy public street.”
It also claimed Kim Potter abused her authority as a police officer. Yet, on Tuesday, just days before the sentencing hearing, AG Ellis withdrew that request in favor of the standard guideline of seven years. Meanwhile, the defense sought an even lesser sentence than the standard.
“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,” Daunte Wright’s father said through tears during his victim statement.
Defense argues for probation
Kim Potter, who pulled over Daunte Wright on April 11, 2021, claimed she thought her gun was her taser when she shot and killed Wright. Attempting to flee after being pulled over during a traffic stop, unarmed Daunte Wright was shot while getting back into his car, and eventually crashed.
“This was an unintentional crime,” Potter’s defense attorney said to Judge Chu as he sought a probationary sentence for Wright’s murderer. Defense attorneys claimed Wright would be alive if not for his own actions and that Potter’s lack of criminal history should be taken into account.
Meanwhile, the defense failed to include the fact that Potter was a 26-year veteran on the force and someone who trained other officers. An officer with that much experience mistaking her Black gun for her yellow taser fails to inspire trust in police.
Ignoring the pain it clearly caused to relatives of Daunte Wright, defense attorneys also pulled out and read from a bag of letters sent to Kim Potter from police officers around the country who support her.
“What happened to you could’ve happened to any of us,” one of the letters in support of Kim Potter read. The letter expressed hope that Kim Potter would remain safe, while Daunte Wright remains buried six feet under ground.
“If you send her to prison you will harm her,” Kim Potter’s defense attorney said while arguing for no prison time.
Ultimately, he argued that Daunte Wright smoking weed while driving was a “violent act” that had the potential to harm Kim Potter. Evidently, he believes police officers who kill unarmed civilians are less dangerous than a young, Black father who is unarmed, driving away.
Emotional victim statements call for maximum sentence
For their part, family members of Daunte Wright made it clear they wanted the maximum sentence in their victim statements.
“I know the charge is manslaughter, but I believe it should be called murder. I feel like I’ve been living in a complete nightmare,” Daunte Wright’s second-youngest sister said during victim statements. “It got so bad to where I can’t sleep. I stopped eating and got depressed. The defendant should be prosecuted to the highest extent. You can’t tell me this was an accident. Daunte was my brother. My blood. Someone who was supposed to grow old with me. How is it that I’m going to see the age of 21 and he didn’t?”
Detailing a conversation she had with her late brother after the George Floyd killing of 2020, Diamond Wright said she and her brother thought their lighter skin might shield them from police brutality. “We were wrong,” she added.
Daunte Wright will never see his son grow up
Chyna Whitaker, the mother of Daunte Wright’s son, Daunte Jr., said their baby was born premature and that the couple often worried about his health.
“However, by the grace of God, he is still here today. He is now two years old, and since April 11 2021, fatherless,” Whitaker told Judge Chu on Friday.
“Kim potter took my son’s best friend away from him. And things haven’t been the same since. Daunte will never get to see his son’s first day of preschool, elementary, high school or college. They didn’t even get a chance to play ball or sports together. Everytime I look at my son, I’m reminded of what was taken from him. How will my son learn to trust police after what happened to his dad?
Also addressing the court Friday during Kim Potter’s sentencing hearing, Daunte Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, said she will only refer to Potter as the defendant because Potter only referred to her 20-year-old son as “the driver” during the trial.
“She never once said his name. And for that I’ll never be able to forgive you. And I’ll never be able to forgive you for what you’ve stolen from us,” Katie Wright said.
Kim Potter apologizes to family while defense argues for probation
After both Daunte Wright’s family and defense attorneys finished speaking, Judge Chu called a 15-minute recess, offering Kim Potter the opportunity to give her own statement once the hearing resumed.
“To the family of Daunte Wright, I am so sorry that i brought the death of your son, father, brother, uncle, grandson, nephew and the rest of your family. I understand a mother’s love and I’m sorry I broke your heart. My heart is broken for all of you.”
She said she didn’t have a right to look at Daunte’s mother. Saying she prays for Daunte “many times a day,” her tears likely didn’t land well with the family, as her defense attorney spent the entire trial seeking probation.
“My life and my world will never ever be the same again,” Katie Wright said.
Judge Chu announces sentencing
Calling it one of the saddest cases she’s had on her 20 years on the bench, Judge Chu said “on the one hand a young man was killed and in the other” a 26-year veteran made a “tragic error” when she pulled out her gun instead of her taser.
“Kimberly Potter honorably served her community for 26 years as a police officer,” Judge Chu said just before announcing her sentencing decision. I find the facts presented here justify a “downward departure” from the guidelines. Claiming the state did not meet its burden of proof that Kim Potter abused her authority, Judge Chu sentenced Potter to just two years in prison.
In Minnesota, inmates who show good behavior are able to serve two-thirds of their sentence in prison and the rest on parole. In other words, Potter will likely only serve 14 to 16 months in prison for killing Daunte Wright.