Minneapolis – A former US police officer was found guilty Thursday of manslaughter after she shot dead a young African-American man, claiming she mistook her gun for her Taser during a traffic stop.
Kim Potter, 49, was convicted of the first and second degree manslaughter of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old father, in Brooklyn Center, a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota, in April.
The incident came during the trial of white policeman Derek Chauvin, who had asphyxiated George Floyd, who was Black, in Minneapolis in May 2020 by kneeling on his neck for some nine minutes.
Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests against racism and police brutality.
Potter now faces a maximum of 15 years in prison on the first charge and 10 years on the second, with the sentencing expected to take place in February.
She looked down and closed her eyes briefly but otherwise did not react as judge Regina Chu read out the guilty verdicts in court.
“Her remorse and her regret for the incident is overwhelming. She’s not a danger to the public whatsoever,” Potter’s defence lawyer Paul Engh said as he asked Chu to release her on bail until sentencing.
But Chu said Potter would remain in custody until the sentencing. Her defence attorneys patted her consolingly on the back as she was handcuffed and led away by law enforcement officials.
Wright’s family said in a statement that they were “relieved” there had been “some measure of accountability for the senseless death of their son, brother, father and friend.”
“From the unnecessary and overreaching tragic traffic stop to the shooting that took his life, that day will remain a traumatic one for this family and yet another example for America of why we desperately need change in policing,” they said.
‘Chaotic’ traffic stop
Wright’s mother, Katie Wright, told a press conference that she felt “emotions, every single emotion that you can imagine” as the verdict was read.
Outside the court supporters could celebrated, danced and played music after the verdict was announced.
Potter had pleaded not guilty and claimed the shooting was an accident, saying she mistakenly grabbed her firearm instead of her Taser stun gun.
In emotional testimony she had described how what was meant to be a routine traffic stop became “chaotic.”
“I remember yelling ‘Taser Taser Taser.’ And nothing happens, then he told me I shot him,” Potter said, bursting into tears.
She said the moments that followed were largely a blank.
“They have an ambulance for me and I don’t know why. And then I went, then I was at the station. I don’t remember a lot of things afterwards,” she said.
On Sunday, April 11, 2021, the white policewoman was patrolling with a colleague who decided to look up the driver of a Buick that had committed a minor traffic violation.
After realising that the driver was the subject of an arrest warrant, the police officers decided to arrest him.
Wright, who was unarmed, resisted being handcuffed and restarted his car to try to flee. Potter then drew what she said she thought was her Taser.
On a body-camera recording of the scene, Potter can be heard shouting “Taser” several times, before shooting with her gun and fatally wounding Wright.
Wright’s death triggered several nights of protests and unrest in Brooklyn Center before Potter’s arrest calmed tensions.
Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison said the state would seek a “fair” sentence for Potter. — AFP