The former police officer who fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop was sentenced to two years in prison on Friday, far less than the standard of about seven years for manslaughter, after a judge said leniency was warranted because the officer had meant to fire her Taser and not her gun.
Jurors convicted the former officer, Kimberly Potter, on two counts of manslaughter in December. They found that she had acted recklessly when she fired a bullet into Mr. Wright’s chest after warning that she was going to stun him and yelling: “Taser! Taser! Taser!”
Ms. Potter, a 49-year-old white woman who served on the police force in Brooklyn Center, Minn., resigned two days after the shooting in April, during a time of chaotic protests over the killing of Mr. Wright, a 20-year-old Black man. She has been imprisoned since the guilty verdict on Dec. 23.
Judge Regina M. Chu sentenced Ms. Potter on only the most serious count, first-degree manslaughter, in accordance with Minnesota law. The state’s sentencing guidelines list the felony count as having a presumptive punishment of a little more than seven years in prison, though the maximum penalty is 15 years. Judge Chu said the case was far different from most manslaughter cases, as well as from other high-profile police killings.
“This is not a cop found guilty of murder for using his knee to pin down a person for nine and a half minutes as he gasped for air,” the judge said, referring to Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis officer who was convicted of murdering George Floyd. She added: “This is a cop who made a tragic mistake. She drew her firearm, thinking it was a Taser, and ended up killing a young man.”
Judge Chu handed down the sentence shortly after Ms. Potter sobbed while apologizing to Mr. Wright’s family in court on Friday.
“I am so sorry that I brought the death of your son,” Ms. Potter said. Speaking directly to Mr. Wright’s mother, she said: “Katie, I understand a mother’s love and I am sorry I broke your heart. My heart is broken for all of you.”
Mr. Wright’s relatives said they were outraged by the leniency of the two-year sentence Ms. Potter received.
Daunte Wright’s father, Arbuey Wright, fought back tears as he described feeling cheated and hurt. He said the judge had seemed to care more about Ms. Potter than about Mr. Wright and his family.
“They were so tied up into her feelings and what’s going on with her that they forgot about my son being killed,” he said. “We actually thought we were going to get a little justice.”
Ben Crump, a lawyer representing Mr. Wright’s family, said many people have been sentenced to longer terms in prison for selling marijuana.
One of Ms. Potter’s lawyers, Paul Engh, said he was grateful that Ms. Potter was “shown mercy.”
It is rare that police officers are convicted and sentenced to prison for killing people. And prosecutions are unusual in the few situations in which officers have claimed they thought they were firing their Tasers.
In 15 previous cases over the past two decades in which officers said they confused their weapons, three were convicted of a crime, including two officers who fired fatal shots. Johannes Mehserle, a transit officer who shot and killed Oscar Grant III at a train station in Oakland, Calif., in 2009, was sentenced to two years in prison. Robert Bates, a volunteer sheriff’s deputy in Tulsa, Okla., was sentenced to four years in prison after he shot and killed a man while meaning to fire his Taser.
Prosecutors in the office of Keith Ellison, the Minnesota attorney general, had suggested that they would ask Judge Chu to sentence Ms. Potter to a prison term beyond the standard sentencing range of 6.2 to 8.6 years, but in a new court filing this week they instead said that a sentence within that range would be appropriate.
Ms. Potter’s lawyers asked the judge to sentence Ms. Potter to probation, arguing that she would be a “walking target” in prison and that the prosecution’s sentencing request was “a political statement.”
Mr. Engh said at the sentencing hearing on Friday that Ms. Potter had suffered a “decline in mental and physical health” in the nearly two months that she has been imprisoned in solitary confinement because of fears that she would be attacked.
More on the Killing of Daunte Wright
Mr. Wright’s parents and siblings had asked Judge Chu to sentence Ms. Potter to the maximum possible prison term.
“Daunte meant the world to me,” Arbuey Wright said in court before the sentence. “He was handsome, he was my son, he was my prince. Daunte was my reason. He was my reason to do better.”
Chyna Whitaker, the mother of Daunte Wright’s 2-year-old son, Daunte Jr., said she had become a single mother “not by choice, but by force,” and that Ms. Potter had taken Daunte Jr.’s “best friend away from him.”
It is quite likely that Ms. Potter will be released from prison after about 14 months, in April 2023. Under Minnesota law, prisoners are generally freed on a supervised release term after they serve two-thirds of their sentence, and Ms. Potter will be credited for the 58 days she has spent in custody since she was convicted.
Prosecutors in Ms. Potter’s case conceded that the shooting on April 11 was a mistake, and in the moments after she fired, body camera videos showed her shouting that she had grabbed the wrong weapon and falling to the ground in tears.
Mr. Wright had been driving with a friend to a carwash in a Minneapolis suburb when Officer Anthony Luckey, who was being trained by Ms. Potter, noticed that Mr. Wright had used the wrong turn signal. Officer Luckey followed Mr. Wright’s white Buick and noticed that the car had an air freshener dangling from the rearview mirror, which is against the law in many states, and that his license plate had an expired registration sticker.
Officers ran Mr. Wright’s name through a police database and determined that a judge had recently issued a warrant for his arrest because he had missed a court date on charges that he had illegally possessed a gun and had run away from police officers. He stepped out of the car at Officer Luckey’s request, but when the officer went to handcuff him, Mr. Wright twisted away from his grip and got back into the driver’s seat.
As Officer Luckey struggled with Mr. Wright, trying to keep him from driving away, Ms. Potter shouted “I’ll Tase you!” while drawing her department-issued Glock instead. Moments later, she fatally shot Mr. Wright, whose car traveled shortly down the street before crashing into an oncoming car.
Daunte Demetrius Wright had played basketball in high school and later worked at Taco Bell and a shoe store with his father. His mother testified at Ms. Potter’s trial that Mr. Wright had recently enrolled in a vocational school and was considering becoming a carpenter.