ST. PAUL, Minn. >> The former suburban Minneapolis police officer who said she confused her handgun for her Taser when she killed Daunte Wright should face a sentence above the state’s guidelines because she abused her authority as a police officer and endangered others when she fired her weapon, prosecutors said in a court filing today.
But defense attorneys for Kim Potter say she should get a lower sentence — or even probation — because she has had an exemplary career, has led a crime-free life and has has been contrite.
“She expressed remorse and apologized to Mr. Wright’s family from the stand, and will again at sentencing,” her attorneys wrote.
Potter, who is white, was convicted in December of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter for fatally shooting the 20-year-old Wright during an April 11 traffic stop in Brooklyn Center as she and other officers were trying to arrest him on an outstanding warrant for a weapons possession charge. Video of the shooting from police body cameras and dashcams showed that Wright, who was Black, pulled away while another officer attempted to handcuff him. Potter repeatedly said she would tase him, but instead shot him once in his chest with her gun, which was in her hand.
Potter is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 18.
Under Minnesota statutes, she will be sentenced only on the most serious charge of first-degree manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years. But state sentencing guidelines call for much less. For someone with no criminal history, like Potter, the guidelines range from just more than six years to about 8 1/2 years, with the presumptive sentence being slightly over seven years.
In order for Judge Regina Chu to issue a sentence that’s outside the guideline range, she would first have to find either mitigating or aggravating factors.
Prosecutors say aggravating factors justify a sentence above the guidelines. Among them, they say, Potter caused a greater-than-normal danger to others.
After Wright was shot, his car traveled forward and struck another vehicle. Wright’s passenger suffered a broken jaw, concussion and other injuries, and the passenger of other car was also hurt and has been in declining health since the crash, requiring hospice care, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said those injuries were “directly attributed to Defendant’s reckless conduct.” They added that Potter also created a danger to her fellow officers when she fired while they were nearby.
Prosecutors also say Potter abused her authority as an officer, writing: “Rather than using only reasonable force, Defendant blindly drew her duty handgun and fired a bullet through Mr. Wright’s heart, killing him. As a result, Defendant abused the faith, trust, and authority that had been placed in her by virtue of her special position as a police officer.”
The defense disagreed, saying Wright chose to flee, which caused the crash, and Potter can’t be held responsible for his decision. They said she did not abuse her authority, “She had no intent to harm. She did not know she had a gun in her hand. Nor did she foresee the unfolding tragedy.”
Defense attorneys are asking for a sentence that’s either below the guideline range, or probation, saying she that as a former officer she would be “a walking target” in prison. They also said her risk of committing the same crime again is low because she is no longer a police officer.
Her attorneys also wrote that imposing a prison sentence “sends the message that if an officer makes a mistake, the Attorney General will be quick to charge… and that officer will be immediately ruined by the publicity alone.”