Kim Potter’s sentence: Are 2 years enough?
Photo taken by: Minnesota Department of Corrections
On Friday February 18 2022, 49-year-old Kim Potter, former suburban Minneapolis police officer, was sentenced to two years in prison and a $1000 fine for the death of Daunte Wright. Potter pleaded not guilty on all charges after admitting that she confused her handgun for her taser, resulting in Wright’s murder.
The incident occurred when Wright was pulled over at a traffic stop by four officers, one being Kim Potter. Wright had an outstanding warrant for a weapons possession charge. Police also claimed that he had expired license tags and an air freshener hanging from his rear-view mirror. Civil rights advocates claim that laws against hanging objects from mirrors are frequently used as a pretext for stopping black motorists.
Police body cameras and dash cams recorded the entire encounter, which was later shown to jurors in court. Wright was shown being stopped and asked to exit the vehicle. As he was being handcuffed by one officer, he pulled away and tried to re-enter his car. Potter then threatened to taser Wright if he continued to resist the officers. Moments later, Wright was shot with a handgun in the chest and died shortly after.
Video footage shows Potter shouting, "Holy shit! I just shot him! I’m going to go to prison!”
At the time of Wright’s shooting, tensions were already sky-high as the world watched the trial of Derek Chauvin, the police officer accused and ultimately convicted of murdering George Floyd.
Following Minnesota law, the maximum prison sentence for 1st degree manslaughter is 15 years. However, for someone like Kim Potter with no criminal history, the state guidelines on first-degree manslaughter are from six to eight-and-a-half years in prison. Potter only received two.
The judge on this case, Regina Chu, justified the lesser sentence on grounds that Potter was “doing her job in attempting to lawfully arrest Daunte Wright”. The judge also claimed that Potter was trying to protect another officer who could have been seriously injured had Wright driven away.
Josh Kramer, a second-year commerce student at Dawson college, reacted: “I think if Kim Potter was being 100% honest about it being an accident, then her sentence is fair. But the question is, was she lying or was it the truth?”
Lexi Rubin, second-year social science student, added: “It’s crazy how she was only sentenced to 2 years. As a police officer, you go through hours and hours of training. There is no way you confuse your gun for a taser. The biases and internalized racism in our judicial system are so prevalent and her case is the perfect example”.
But what are the differences between a handgun and a taser? First, a taser and a gun have different triggers and safety mechanisms that must be engaged before firing. Second, the taser has a laser with LED lights that display before it is fired, while the handgun does not.
Brooklyn Center Police Chief Tim Gannon explained that the placement of handguns compared to tasers is very different: “We train with our handguns on our dominant side and our Taser on our weak side. This is done purposefully, and it’s trained”.
Chief Gannon added that a fully loaded handgun is around 34 ounces, and a taser gun weighs around 8 ounces. Therefore, the handgun is significantly heavier, which makes it easier to decipher the two.
During the trial, Judge Chu called it “one of the saddest cases [she has had] in [her] 20 years on the bench”. She also acknowledged that she is anticipating backlash from the public, but would like to clarify that this case is unlike Derek Chauvin’s case given that this was a “tragic accident”.
Wright’s family argued that the sentence was too lenient. They also accused the judge of sympathizing with the white officer rather than the black victim.
Ben Crump, one of the Wright family’s lawyers, concurred, stating that the judge's comments showed a “clear absence of compassion for the victim in this tragedy and were devastating to the family."
At the trial, Wright’s mother, Katie, tearfully pledged: “Today the justice system murdered [my son] all over again. Daunte Demetrius Wright, I will continue to fight in your name until driving while black is no longer a death sentence”.
Chyna Whitaker, the mother of Wright’s son, said that Daunte will never watch his son go to school and play baseball with him. She also said that her son should not have to wear a “‘rest in peace’ shirt of his dad.”
While Potter showed no emotion throughout the trial, a day later, she was photographed smiling in her mugshot, prison becoming her home for the next two years.