A prosecutor urged jurors Monday to hold a former Minnesota police officer criminally responsible for a "colossal screw-up, a blunder of epic proportions" that ended in the fatal shooting of a Black motorist.
Assistant State Attorney General Erin Eldridge said the defendant, Kim Potter, a former Brooklyn Center police officer, improperly disregarded a series of risks when she drew her service weapon and shot and killed Daunte Wright this year.
Potter, who is white, has said she accidentally pulled a Glock when she was trying to deploy a Taser to subdue Wright, who was fleeing from arrest on a misdemeanor weapons warrant.
But Eldridge insisted that Potter shouldn't have even used a Taser on Wright, who was mortally wounded and drove a short distance before he slammed into another car seconds later.
"It goes to show that she made a series of bad choices that led to her shooting and killing Daunte Wright. It goes to her disregard of all the risks," Eldridge told a Minneapolis jury.
"Members of the jury, this was no little 'oopsies.' 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."
Potter has pleaded not guilty to first- and second-degree manslaughter charges.
A conviction for first-degree manslaughter would mean Potter improperly used “such force and violence that death of or great bodily harm to any person was reasonably foreseeable.”
The second-degree manslaughter charge alleges that Potter’s “culpable negligence” created “unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another.”
The charges carry maximum sentences of 15 years and 10 years in prison, respectively.
Defense attorney Earl Gray insisted that Potter can't be criminally punished for a tragic accident, which he compared to a deadly mishap at the hands of a doctor, a pilot or a lawyer.
"You’ve never heard of a doctor being charged with making a mistake, and we know common sense and history tells you they’ve made many and many have caused death. Many have caused serious injuries," he told jurors.
Eldridge played Potter's body-camera video in slow motion for jurors, saying it showed that she most likely saw her weapon before firing it.
"She took specific actions that put Daunte Wright and everyone else around him at risk," Eldridge said. "An ordinary and prudent person would not have drawn a weapon, held it for more than five ... six seconds, aimed it and pulled the trigger, all without recognizing or confirming what was in their hand."
Gray lashed out at the prosecution’s use of Potter’s body-camera video, arguing that it was played in slow motion, frame by frame, making for a distorted picture of events.
“Playing the video, not at the right speed where it showed chaos, playing it as slow as possible, that’s the rabbit hole of misdirection,” Gray told jurors. “So when you go into that jury room, play it like it’s supposed to be played, not a rabbit hole of misdirection.”
The defense insisted that Wright, not Potter, was responsible for the fatal interaction.
“The state argues Daunte Wright had nothing to do with his death, which is absurd,” Gray said.
Once Wright tried to flee, the police had no choice but to stop him, the defense said.
“That’s the cause, ladies and gentlemen of the jury. That’s what caused this whole incident," Gray said. "If he would have gone with the officers ... go take a ride downtown and it’s over."
Wright was killed in a confrontation about 10 miles from the courthouse where former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin was on trial for the slaying of George Floyd.
Days later, Chauvin, who is white, was convicted of second- and third-degree murder, as well as second-degree manslaughter, in the killing of Floyd, a Black man, whose death on May 25, 2020, touched off a summer of national protests calling for an end to institutional racism.
Potter is being tried in the same 18th-floor courtroom where Chauvin was tried and convicted. She has pleaded not guilty, claiming Wright's killing was a tragic accident.
Wright was pulled over because of an air freshener dangling from the rear-view mirror, prosecutors said. A short time later, officers tried to arrest him on an outstanding warrant and a struggle ensued. Body camera video showed Potter repeatedly yelling, “Taser!”
“Members of the jury, the defendant told you her sons will be home for the holidays. You know who won’t be home for the holidays is Daunte Wright," Eldridge said. "Daunte Wright’s parents, Katie and Aubrey Wright, will have an empty seat at their table this holiday season because the defendant shot and killed him on April 11 of this year."
Eldridge added: "At the heart of it, this case is very simple, members of the jury. It’s a case about the defendant’s reckless handling of her firearm, and it’s about her culpable negligence.”
The jury of nine white people, one African American and two Asian Americans began deliberations Monday afternoon, and ended the day without a decision.
Just before the panel retired to its deliberation room, another prosecutor, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank, urged jurors to disregard defense claims that Potter simply made a tragic mistake.
“There’s no mistake defense. You will not see an instruction on the defense of mistake,” Frank told jurors. “The judge will not give you an instruction that says a person is not guilty if they commit a mistake. That’s not the law no matter how often the defense says ‘mistake.’”