Yet another trial involving the police killing of a Black man in Minnesota began on Monday. Kim Potter, a former 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center police force, is on trial, accused of first and second-degree manslaughter for shooting and killing 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop on April 11, 2021. The shooting occurred in Brooklyn Center, a first-tier suburb just north of Minneapolis.
Four of the 12 jurors who will decide Potter’s fate were seated and it is expected that the jury will be complete by Friday.
Potter claimed that she shot Wright with her handgun while intending to tase him. In the video capturing the incident, she yells “taser, taser, taser” as she pulls her gun and shoots Wright killing him. She can also be heard afterward on the tape saying, “I grabbed the wrong (expletive) gun,” and “I’m going to go to prison.”
Related Story: Kim Potter Trial: Five more jurors seated
The trial comes on the heels of two trials that had captured the nation’s attention—both with racial overtones. The killers of Ahmaud Arbery were convicted of murder last week in Georgia. And in Wisconsin, Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of killing two people and wounding another while at a protest demanding justice for Jacob Blake, a Black man who had been shot in the back by Kenosha police.
Several Black men have been killed in the Twin Cities in recent years including, Terrence Franklin, Jamar Clarke, Philando Castille, George Floyd, Daunte Wright, Dolal Idd, and Winston Smith. Few have been tried for their deaths, and even fewer have been convicted. Derek Chauvin’s conviction for killing Floyd is the lone exception.
Potter’s defense attorney Earl Gray, who seems to be making a career out of defending cops who shoot Black men, said in the lead up to the trial, “What we have basically is an innocent mistake. She didn’t cause the death of Mr. Wright. He caused his death himself.”
Jury selection process
The jury selection proceeded similarly to the Chauvin trial. Potential jurors had to fill out a 17-page questionnaire that covered their perspectives on the defendant and the victim, police, the statement Blue Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter as a movement, protests, racial bias, the criminal justice system, and guns. “Have you or anyone you know attended a protest?” was also one of the questions.
The questionnaire also included true or false state statements. For example, one stated that “because law enforcement have such dangerous jobs, it’s not fair to second guess their decisions: true or false.”
And like the questionnaire in the Chauvin trial, the questions seemed quite political and the answers, at least so far, seem to reveal the mindset of potential jurors.
Incidentally, in his questioning of potential Juror 15, defense attorney Engh claimed, “The sociology of the case is not why we are here.” But in reality, it was the social forces demanding that Potter—and by extension, the police in general—be held accountable, especially in the wake of the murder of Floyd, that practically forced the State to charge Potter. This is evidenced by the fact that the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office headed by Keith Ellison took over the case ceding to community pressure.
Four out of the 11 jurors questioned were seated including two White males, a 60-year-old White woman and a woman of Asian descent. Judge Regina Chu, along with attorneys for the State, primarily Matthew Frank, and defense attorneys Gray and Paul Engh, took turns questioning potential jurors.
The first juror seated (Juror #2) was a White male who appeared to be in his 40s. He holds a Ph.D. and edited a medical journal. During his questioning, he appeared perceptive. He said that Blue Lives Matter is less about support for the police and more of a counter cry against Black Lives Matter (BLM). He acknowledged that BLM is an expression that Black lives matter, too. But he disagreed on the questionnaire with the idea of defunding the police.
Juror# 6, the older White woman who said she was a retired teacher, was selected and questioned rather rigorously. It appears that the defense used her questions to push their line to the court and prospective jurors that Potter’s actions were “an honest mistake.”
“Officer Potter will testify,” Engh said. “And tell you what she remembered happened, so you will know, not just from the video but from the officers at the scene, and Officer Potter herself, what was occurring.”
Juror 11, who appeared to be an Asian woman in her 40s, was selected for the jury. She said she believes that “the police do keep order.”
Juror 9 told the court that she thought race does affect decisions and likely influenced why Wright was stopped. She was not selected.
The prosecution appeared to cross the line in its questioning of a young woman (Juror #15) who had worked on Ellison’s campaign for attorney general. After a bit of back and forth about intention, Engh pointed out that Potter’s actions seem careless “but not particularly malicious.” Engh seemed to get into the meat or facts of the case by trying to get the potential juror to agree with the defense’s position that it was a mistake. He also added, “It could have been unintentional.”
The potential juror said her perception of the incident was that “it was absurd.” She told the court that she visited George Floyd Square (GFS) on two occasions. She admitted that she attended a George Floyd protest on Lake street soon after his murder. She was dismissed by the defense, which used one of their peremptory challenges that allows them to eliminate a potential juror simply because they don’t want them on the jury.
Legal pundits seem to agree that first-degree manslaughter was an overcharge. But their speculation is dependent upon believing Potter’s story that it was an accident or mistake.
“We must look past the shameless victim-blaming that has been and will be directed toward Daunte,” said the Wright family in a press statement issued on Tuesday during jury selection. “We must not also be fooled by the defense’s cries of ‘an innocent mistake.’ No reasonable officer can confuse their taser for a gun, particularly a training officer who drew both of those weapons from her duty belt countless times.”
Jeff Storms, the attorney for the Wright family, said the fact that Potter faces charges at all is a “step” toward justice and progress but he was concerned about the jury selection.
“We’re going to watch jury selection and see if the defendants do what we saw in the Ahmaud Arbery trial. Are they going to try to have the Whitest jury possible?
“But even if that’s the case, if there is a White jury, is a Minnesota White jury prepared to hold a White officer accountable under these circumstances?” Storms asked. “It’s going to tell a lot of us about where we stand as a state. What you’re staring at is a lot of really, really important history.”