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Jury ends first day of deliberations in Kimberly Potter trial, will resume Tuesday

20December 2021

After 11 days of testimony and arguments by attorneys, jurors in the trial of Kimberly Potter have now been sent to deliberate Brooklyn Center police officer should be convicted of manslaughter for shooting Daunte Wright in the chest as he resisted arrest.

The jurors received the case early Monday afternoon and stopped for the day at 6 p.m. They will resume Tuesday morning.

After closing arguments, Hennepin Count District Judge Regina Chu went through some final instructions and evidence review matters before dismissing them to weigh charges of first- and second-degree manslaughter in connection with Wright’s death on April 11.

“It’s now time to do your job,” Chu said before dismissing the two alternate jurors and leaving the remaining 12 with the task of reaching unanimous verdicts on both counts. Jurors will deliberate until 6 p.m. before being dismissed. As previously ordered by Chu, the jurors will remain sequestered throughout deliberations.

Six women and six men serve on the jury. Nine of the jurors are white, two are Asian women and one is a Black woman. Potter is white, Wright was Black.

Four jurors are in their 40s, three are in their 20s, two are in their 60s, two are in their 50s and one is in her 30s.

During closing arguments, prosecutor Erin Eldridge told jurors that “at the heart of it, this case is a very simple case,”

She said the case is about “reckless handling of a firearm and culpable negligence: She drew a deadly weapon, she aimed it, she pointed it at Daunte Wright’s chest and fired.”

When it was the defense’s turn, Earl Gray hit back at several points the prosecution tried to make.

Gray pushed back on prosecution claims that the defense sent jurors down a “rabbit hole” of hypotheticals. It was prosecutors who were misleading by playing video from Potter’s body camera in slow motion, rather than regular speed.

Also, Gray said, Potter indeed saw the fear in Sgt. Mychal Johnson’s face because “the body worn camera is here,” he said, patting his midsection, and “her head his here,” he continued, raising one hand.

Eldridge used Potter’s own body worn camera video to argue that she could not have possibly seen any concern on the face of Sgt. Mychal Johnson that he would have been dragged down the street by a fleeing Wright before she pulled the trigger.

Gray reminded the jury that they must presume Potter innocent, and to find her guilty they must determine that the state proved “each and every element of the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.”

“It’s the type of proof you act upon in the most important affairs of your life, and make no mistake about it, ladies and gentlemen, this is the most important affair of my client’s life. It’s the type of proof, I believe, that in 10 years when you look at yourself in the mirror and say ‘By golly, I did the right thing when I found Kim Potter not guilty. That’s beyond a reasonable doubt.”

He emphasized that Wright was “the superseding cause of death” when he attempted to flee rather than cooperate with the officers.

“Everything after that, the officers did to try to stop him,” Gray said, also countering an expert witness for the prosecution who testified that the officers should have let Wright leave and arrest him later. “That’s not protecting the public. That’s not serving the public. They had to stop him.”

Eldridge used Potter’s own body worn camera video to argue that she could not have possibly seen any concern on the face of Sgt. Mychal Johnson that he would have been dragged down the street by a fleeing Wright before she pulled the trigger.

Eldridge said that the case is not about any of the criminal suspicions police had of Wright that Sunday afternoon or about Potter being a good person, adding, “Even nice people have to obey the law.”

“She knew she had a loaded gun on her duty belt, a gun that she carried every single day on the job, she carried it on her right side very day for 26 years ,” Eldridge said. “And that’s the weapon she used, that’s the weapon she drew, that’s the weapon she pointed and that’s the weapon she fired. Members of the jury, that’s culpable negligence and that’ s reckless handling of a firearm.”

Eldridge walked the jurors through a frame-by-frame analysis from the body cameras of Potter and Sgt. Mychal Johnson, who earlier testified that he feared being dragged as they struggled with Wright in his vehicle. Eldridge attempted to show that Johnson was not in danger before Potter fired.

If anyone saved Sgt. Johnson’s life, it was Daunte Wright when he took a bullet to the chest,” she said.

Eldridge repeated several times that Potter killed Wright, was trained well to know the difference between her Taser and her gun, that her actions were not a simple mistake and that the other office’s were not in physical danger during the stop.

“She was aware of the risk of killing someone with that firearm,” Eldridge said. She disregarded that risk.”

As for the accidental nature of Potter have a deadly weapon in her hand, as a defense witness contended, the prosecutor said, “This was no little oopsie. This was not putting the wrong date on a check, this was not entering the wrong password somewhere. This was a colossal screw up; a blunder of epic proportions. It was precisely the thing she had been warned about for years and she was trained to prevent it. It was irreversible and it was fatal.”

She also cautioned jurors understand that Potter’s former colleagues who testified might have been biased toward her because they were fellow members of what they considered to be a “police family.”

“How can we ask officers who’ve known and liked the defendant Kimberly Potter for years, have been a part of her police family for decades, how can we ask them to independently assess what happened on April 11?” Eldridge said. “‘m sure most Brooklyn Center police officers would have preferred to not have to be here to testify before you. But they did. They had to. But the further away you get from the bias of the close relationship with the defendant … the clearer things become.”

A more important relationship, the prosecutor argued, is the one between a police officer and their community they serve.

However, Eldridge said, “the defendant shattered that trust, [and] she shattered Daunte Wright’s heart. She chose right instead of left, she chose wrong instead of right. She chose her gun, and she shot and killed Daunte Wright.”

Eldridge encouraged the jurors to review the videos and handle the Taser and handgun that will be available to them during deliberations.

She said the videos will show that Officer Anthony Luckey and Sgt. Johnson did not feel they were in danger and “were “using a proportional amount of force [against Wright]. They were just trying to keep him from driving away.”

Once in deliberations, she said, “You’ll be able to hold that gun and hold that Taser … to get a feel for the two [and] see how different they really are.”

As often as Eldridge reminded jurors that Potter killed Wright, Gray let them know that his client made a mistake and didn’t commit a crime.

“Understand this,” he said, “in the walk of life, everybody makes mistakes, and some of those mistakes are small, mistakes but some of them are very serious. She obviously made a mistake, it’s called an ‘action error.’ Nobody’s perfect, ladies and gentlemen, this lady made a mistake and my gosh, a mistake is not a crime.”

He also drove home Wright’s role in creating what Gray called more than once “chaos” as he resisted arrest.

“He really wanted to get away,” Gray said. “He knew he was guilty of the weapons violation. He didn’t want to go to jail and run the risk of a criminal case.”

Gray also stood up for the reputations of the officers who testified, for the state as well as the prosecution, and backed all of Potter’s actions at the shooting scene.

“Are they the kind of individuals who would lie, give a false opinion? No,” the attorney said.

Summing up, Gray said the prosecution “failed in every element, miserably failed. … Kim Potter is not guilty of these crimes.”

In a rebuttal, prosecutor Matthew Frank emphasized that Wright died of a gunshot wound from a weapon fired by Potter, and said “a mistake” is not a defense.

“The judge will not give you an instruction that says a person is not guilty if they committed a mistake, that’s not the law, no matter how often the defense says it was a mistake,” Frank said.

He also wanted the jurors to understand who is truly responsible for Wright’s death.

“To an absurd extent, Potter now attempts to argue that he caused his own death,” said Frank, who drew several failed objections from the defense attorneys. “I want you to consider if we accept that argument, that he caused his own death, we have to accept that any time a person does not meticulously follow the demands of a police officer they can be shot to death and there would be no consequences to that officer. That’s absurd.”

Monday’s proceedings began with Judge Regina Chu instructing the jurors on how to apply the law as they contemplate whether Potter is guilty on either or both counts: first- and second-degree manslaughter.

Once the closing arguments are complete, the final two jurors chosen during the selection process will be dismissed, and the remaining 12 will begin deliberating in connection with Wright’s death on April 11.

Potter has contended from the start that she meant to deploy her Taser on Wright as he resisted arrest during a traffic stop but drew and fired her gun instead. Prosecutors have argued that she acted recklessly and negligently, and that neither a Taser nor a gun was justified in her situation.

The defense concluded its case Friday with Potter testifying as she recalled the “chaotic” events, and she later apologized for her actions when pressed by a prosecutor about her failure to render aid to Wright after the car he was in crashed seconds later into another vehicle.

“We were struggling,” an increasingly emotional Potter said under questioning from one of her attorneys about what preceded the shooting as Wright slipped back into the driver’s seat. “We were trying to keep him from driving away.

“It just went chaotic … And then I remember yelling ‘Taser! Taser! Taser!’ and nothing happened, and then [Wright] told me I shot him,” she said through her sobs.

Prosecutor Erin Eldridge peppered Potter with questions about not rendering aid to Wright and why she didn’t radio officers who arrived as back-up that she had shot him.

“You were focused on what you had done because you had just killed somebody?”

“I’m sorry it happened,” Potter sobbed. “I’m so sorry.”

In her cross-examination, Eldridge emphasized the amount of training Potter received on weapons and use-of-force in her career. Eldridge also walked Potter through the physical contrasts between her Taser and handgun and the different manner in which each is unclasped and drawn from its respective holster — one located on her left side and the other on her right.

Police had stopped Wright for expired vehicle registration tabs and a dangling air freshener and attempted to arrest him after discovering an arrest warrant for a weapons charge. Wright broke free of an officer attempting to handcuff him and jumped into his car. Sgt. Mychal Johnson was standing outside the front passenger door and had reached in to prevent Wright from shifting the car into drive. Wright’s car sped forward into another vehicle after Potter shot him once in the chest.

Under questioning by defense attorney Earl Gray, the 49-year-old Potter said that as Wright attempted to flee she saw Johnson’s face and as he struggled with Wright over control of the car’s gear shift.

“He had a look of fear on his face,” Potter said. “It’s nothing I’ve seen before.”

Potter testified that she shot Wright soon afterward. Her defense has argued that she had the legal authority to use a Taser or deadly force on Wright because he could have fatally dragged Johnson.

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