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4 jurors seated in Kim Potter trial; defense says she'll testify

30November 2021

Four jurors were selected by day’s end Tuesday in the manslaughter trial of Kimberly Potter, the former Brooklyn Center police officer who shot Daunte Wright during what started as a traffic stop in April and who the defense says will testify on her own behalf.

Jury selection is scheduled to resume Wednesday morning in Hennepin County District Court in connection with Potter, 49, being charged in Hennepin County District Court with first- and second-degree manslaughter for killing Wright with her service firearm while yelling “Taser!”

The jurors chosen so far are a white man in his 20s, a woman of Asian descent in her 40s, a white man in his 50s, and a white woman in her 60s.

Late in the morning during questioning of one potential juror, defense attorney Paul Engh disclosed that Potter will testify in her own defense.

The jury candidate said she wondered “how did this happen?” after learning that the 20-year-old Wright was fatally shot while Potter yelled “Taser!” three times.

“Officer Potter will testify and tell you what she remembered happened,” Engh said, “so you will know, not just from the video but from the officers at the scene and Officer Potter herself, what was occurring.”

The woman, who is white and in her 60s, was added to the jury panel after pledging that she would judge the case solely on the evidence and testimony, and in particular “would evaluate [Potter’s testimony] like any other witness.”

She said she’s aware that Wright has a criminal history, but “I know that the victim is not on trial.”

The retired suburban public school teacher did acknowledge that Potter’s interaction with Wright lasted just 12 seconds, adding, “I really feel for any law enforcement because things can happen so quickly.”

Prosecutor Matthew Frank, referencing that timespan, pointed out that Potter received training on how to react in high-stakes incidents that unfold quickly.

The first potential juror, a white man in his 50s, was selected about 10 a.m. A medical editor who formerly lived and worked in Washington, D.C., he said: “I’m familiar with the concept of taking very subjective matter and trying to process that as objectively as possible.”

He said he disagrees with the movement to defund police departments, explaining, “I believe there is a need for a change, but I think defund sends a negative message. I think it sends an emotionally loaded message, rather than we need reform — let’s just abolish.”

At the same time, he said, the Blue Lives Matter movement “is less in support of the police, rather that it is a counter-cry against Black Lives Matter. It’s not a fair representation.”

The third juror chosen, a white man in his 20s, works in distribution for Target on the overnight shift but assured the court that he would have enough time off to ensure that he will not show up for opening statements short on sleep.

Frank asked just a handful of questions after hearing the man say “there is somewhat of a distrust there, but i do recognize that it’s a very hard job. It feels childish to say there’s distrust there, but I i know if I do need help, I’m going to ask for it.”

Defense attorney Earl Gray devoted a fair chunk of his time focusing on this juror’s time as a rock ‘n’ roll guitarist in a nationally touring band.

“It was a great eye-opening experience,” the juror said, including that his musical travels afforded him good experiences with law enforcement and security, and nothing troubling.

The juror disclosed that he owned a stun gun while in the band for a few years, but it was confiscated in Canada, and he never replaced it.

The afternoon began with a retired Minneapolis fire captain who affirmed he could be a fair-minded juror before he was ultimately dismissed by the prosecution with what is called a perememptory strike. The prosecution started with three strikes. The defense began with five.

Prosecutor Frank pushed the man about his feelings toward police, in particular in light of his profession working closely with officers when responding to incident scenes.

He could not recall any troubling interactions with police in his 31 years with the Fire Department, adding, “Everybod ydoes their own job. Never really had anything personal, off the job or anything. … Fire has always been the nice guy … because everybody likes you.”

Asked about his views of the Black Lives Matter movement, the potential juror said he thinks its followers could “work harder to stop inner-city gun crimes.”

Just as the issue of race has been part of the continuing debate for years in the connection with police conduct, the same back and forth has surfaced in the killing of Wright, a Black man, by a white officer.

The next jury candidate was dismissed after he acknowledged that he would have difficulty putting aside his biases against Potter, given she was a veteran police officer who shot her gun instead of her Taser.

“If you’re about to get in a crash, you know the difference between the brake and the gas,” he said.

“I don’t know if you want to select me,” he told defense attorney Engh. “I think that if you can find other jurors that would be 100% unbiased, I would not be your best selection.”

Just as the issue of race has been part of the continuing debate for years in the connection with police conduct, the same back and forth has surfaced in the killing of Wright, a Black man, by a white officer.

Once a panel of 12 jurors and two alternates is seated after questioning by defense and prosecution attorneys, opening statements are scheduled to follow on Dec. 8, with the trial before Judge Regina Chu projected to wrap up in late December.

Proceedings began shortly after 9:15 a.m., when the first group of prospective jurors was called into the courtroom and briefed about the charges, the jury selection process and how the law applies in this case.

Chu introduced to jury candidates the attorneys on both sides and also Potter, who was directed by the judge to stand.

The second jury candidate was dismissed by Chu after she was questioned only by the defense.

In her pretrial questionnaire, she wrote that Wright “was a father with a beautiful baby boy, and it was sad that he left too soon.” She also wrote that she had a “very negative” view of Potter and “would love to see how a police officer is convicted.”

Defense attorney Earl Gray asked her, “Is that still your answer today?” She responded, “Yes.”

The morning’s third prospective juror also was excused after he stopped short of assuring the court that he could be fair and impartial while hearing the evidence.

“I’ll do my best” was as far as he would say. He said he had heard of some of the trouble with the law that Wright had been and added, “If he had listened to the directions, he would still be with us. … That’s what I teach my kids, and that’s I do when I get pulled over.”

The man said he has guns and pepper spray in his home out of concern of becoming a crime victim. “It’s pretty sad that that’s what we have to do now,” he said.

He also said he has a negative view of the Black Lives Matter movement, calling its followers “Marxist, communists. That is their primary goal, to convert [the country] into that.”

He said in his questionnaire that he has a “somewhat positive” view of Potter and respects law enforcement as a whole. He pointed out that he works in road construction, and state troopers who guard projects “do a great job keeping workers safe.”

The first jury candidate questioned in the afternoon expressed great reluctance at being chosen, citing his wife’s recent serious bout with COVID-19 and her continuing treatment for cancer. Those hardships led to his being excused.

“It’s hard to say,” he responded, when asked whether he could keep his mind on the trial and not his personal challenges. “I think I can get on, but I can’t promise you that.”

He also pointed out that he works at the county workhouse and has 17 inmates he supervises, and there are “people who sit there who might know me.”

The fourth juror chosen was a woman of Asian descent in her 40s who was firm in her ability to judge the case solely on the evidence, describing herself as a “rule follower.”

She shared with the court that a friend of hers was fatally stabbed to death, and the suspect was convicted. Even with that in mind, she said, “I believe that I will listen to the evidence in this case. Every case is different.”

Prosecutor Frank asked a series of questions about second-guessing officers who have to act quickly.

“I think sometimes you just react, and sometimes it might be a wrong reaction,” she said. “Mistakes happen.”

A college student followed and was excused because his class finals are scheduled at the time of the trial.

The defense exercised its first peremptory strike and excused a woman who volunteered for the 2018 campaign for Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office is prosecuting Potter.

She assured the court her one month supporting Ellison would not diminish her ability to fairly consider the evidence.

The woman also dislosed that she supports the idea defunding the police because “it is my personal opinion that the police are overfunded.” She also said she viewed the Blue Lives Matter mission as “not about [supporting] police. … One of the things I have seen on the side of the radical right is Blue Lives Matter is used as a calling card for white supremacy.”

She also said she attended a protest shortly after George Floyd was killed in May 2020 while in police custody and has visited his memorial twice.

During the jury selection process, Potter was seated at the defense table flanked by her attorneys. They and others in the courtroom were wearing protective masks as part of the court’s response to the pandemic. Clear barriers were also up at various points.

Police body camera footage captured one officer trying to arrest Wright outside of his car on April 11. He had been stopped at N. 63rd and Orchard avenues that Sunday afternoon for expired registration tabs, and police discovered he had an arrest warrant for a gross misdemeanor weapons charge.

Wright jumped back into the car, prompting Potter to draw her handgun and fire once at him while shouting, “Taser! Taser! Taser!” According to court filings, Potter said, “Oh my God,” several times after the shooting and acknowledged that she grabbed the wrong gun.

Potter’s attorneys, Gray and Paul Engh, have said their client, a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center Police Department, made an “innocent mistake.” They plan to call psychologist Laurence Miller to testify about “slip and capture errors,” where a dominant behavior overrides a less dominant one.

The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, which is prosecuting Potter with assistance from the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, noted in the criminal complaint against Potter that before she killed Wright she completed a Taser training course on Nov. 5, 2020, and March 2.

“On Defendant’s certificate of completion, Defendant provided her signature, acknowledging that she had read and understood the information and warnings provided by the manufacturer …,” the complaint said. “One of those warnings states: ‘Confusing a handgun with a CEW [Taser] could result in death or serious injury. Learn the differences in the physical feel and holstering characteristics between your CEW and your handgun to help avoid confusion.’ “

At the time of Wright’s death, Potter’s case is at least the 16th in the United States in which a police officer shot someone when intending to use a Taser, and the fourth time that someone died as a result, according to news media and court filings reviewed by the Star Tribune. Nine of those cases did not lead to criminal charges, and a judge ordered charges dropped in a 10th.

Potter will have her proceedings livestreamed around the world, as was the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted in April of killing Floyd.

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