Noting that the case departed significantly from that of other police killings in Hennepin County, a judge sentenced former Brooklyn Center Police officer Kimberly Potter to 24 months in prison, with the instruction for her to serve two-thirds of that sentence, or a total of 16 months.
“This is a cop who made a tragic mistake,” Judge Regina Chu said just before sentencing Potter. “She drew her firearm thinking it was her Taser and tragically killed a young man.”
Chu, noting that it was one of the saddest cases she has seen in her 20 years on the bench, said she had received hundreds of letters asking for leniency for Potter, and that she read all of them.
She agreed with the defense that a downward departure from the sentencing guidelines was appropriate, given that Potter’s actions were less severe than those of a typical manslaughter case. Typical sentencing for first-degree manslaughter, barring previous criminal convictions, is 86 months, or just more than seven years.
Chu noted several mitigating factors that justified a more lenient sentence, including that Potter never intended to shoot Wright, her actions were not driven by personal animus towards Wright, and the scene of the crime was tense and chaotic.
Prosecutors initially sought the maximum sentence of 15 years for Potter, but earlier this week, they backtracked and asked the court for the typical 86-month sentence, per the guidelines.
Before handing down the sentence, both Wright’s family and Potter’s defense addressed the court.
Several of Wright’s family members emotionally addressed the court, including his father and the mother of his child. Most of Wright’s family members argued that Potter murdered him in cold blood, rather than accidentally. They shared memories of Wright and anecdotes about their time with Wright. Ultimately, they all asked for the court to sentence Potter to the maximum of 15 years.
After Wright’s family spoke, Potter’s attorney Paul Engh made a lengthy plea to the court for a minimal sentence for his client.
Engh said that Hennepin County was a model for the rest of the state in terms of helping first-time offenders, instead of sending them to prison.
“We’re helping all kinds of defendants that come through Hennepin County,” he said. “We should be helping [Potter].”
He also highlighted hundreds of letters, which he said came from all over the world, offering support to Potter. He said sending such letters to a convicted killer was “unprecedented.”
He finished by reading a letter from a paramedic who knew Potter professionally. According to that letter, when a colleague of the paramedic died in the line of duty, the paramedic began exhibiting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Potter took notice of that and offered her continued support to the paramedic, despite the fact that they only knew each other professionally.
He also said that “the case was over-charged in the first place,” and that “[the prosecution] never should have asked for 86 months [in prison] for someone like her.”
That point was made by the original prosecutor on the case, Imran Ali, who resigned due to the political implications of the trial. He said he never would have charged Potter with first-degree manslaughter, and that her actions rose to culpable negligence, but not criminal negligence.
The first-degree manslaughter charge was added when Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office took over the case.
After a break, Potter herself addressed the court.
Through tears, she spoke directly to Wright’s family, expressing heartbreak for Wright’s family.
“I am so sorry that I hurt you so badly,” she said. “My heart is broken – devastated for all of you. I pray for Daunte and all of you multiple times per day.”
“To the community of Brooklyn Center, I do owe you an apology too,” she said. “I loved working for you and I’m sorry for what has happened to our community since the death of Daunte.”
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Pete D’Abrosca is a contributor at The Minnesota Sun and The Star News Network. Follow Pete on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Kim Potter” by Hennepin County Sherriff’s Office. Background Photo “Hennepin County Courthouse” by Ken Lund. CC BY 2.0.