Earlier today, to my disappointment, a Hennepin County jury convicted former police officer Kim Potter of both first degree and second degree manslaughter in the shooting death of hard-core criminal Daunte Wright. The facts of the case were never in dispute: police officers tried to arrest Wright on an outstanding warrant for a weapons charge, and he attempted to flee in his vehicle. As Wright was starting to get away, Potter meant to tase him, but under the pressure of the moment she drew her gun instead of her taser and fired once, killing Wright. Videos at the scene show that she was horrified and distraught at her mistake. The evidence at trial added little or nothing to what has always been clear.
In my opinion, the verdicts are wrong and should be reversed on appeal. The first degree manslaughter count requires that Potter caused another’s death “in committing or attempting to commit a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor offense with such force and violence that death of or great bodily harm to any person was reasonably foreseeable…” But Potter was not committing or attempting to commit a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor, she was executing a lawful arrest of a criminal. There was a similar issue in the Derek Chauvin case.
Further, she did not act with “such force or violence” that death or great bodily harm was foreseeable. On the contrary, what was foreseeable to her when she tried to pull her taser was minor injury at worst.
The second degree manslaughter charge requires that death be caused “by the person’s culpable negligence whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another.” There was no evidence that Potter “consciously” took the chance of “causing death” to Daunte Wright. Consciously, she was trying to use her taser, which would not have killed or seriously injured Wright.
In my opinion, Attorney General Keith Ellison should not have brought these charges against Potter, and Judge Regina Chu should not have submitted them to the jury. Will Potter’s conviction be reversed on appeal? It should be, but I don’t think anyone holds out much hope that Minnesota’s appellate courts have that kind of courage. The lynch mob atmosphere that prevailed in the Chauvin trial was more muted here, but I assume there would be riots if an appellate court did the right thing.
In recent times, two criminal defendants have had the book thrown at them in Minnesota: Derek Chauvin and Kim Potter. In general, Minnesota is a lenient state–one could almost say, a pro-criminal state. But Chauvin and Potter not only were overcharged (in Chauvin’s case, I don’t think his actions had anything to do with George Floyd’s death from a fentanyl overdose), the prosecution also was taken over by the Attorney General’s office, and the full resources of the state were brought to bear to ensure that convictions would be obtained in an atmosphere of threatened mob violence.
Here in Minnesota, we will be living with the consequences of these actions for a long time. At a minimum, it is hard to see who will want to be a police officer here. Not surprisingly, recruitment has dropped off precipitously. And the perceived alliance between Minnesota’s Attorney General’s office and the world of criminal gangs and drug addicts does not engender faith in law enforcement, to put it mildly.
The rule of law is under attack in many ways, ranging from the burning down of the Minneapolis Police Department’s 3rd Precinct station to today’s unjust conviction of Kim Potter on charges that never should have been brought. I think we have barely begun to see the results of this assault, in Minnesota or across the country.