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Kim Potter, ex-cop who shot Daunte Wright, sentenced to 2 years in prison

“To those who feel a longer prison sentence is appropriate, please try to empathize with Ms. Potter’s situation,” said Judge Regina Chu

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Former Brooklyn Center Police Officer Kim Potter center, with defense attorney Earl Gray, left, and Paul Engh sit at the defense table after the verdict is read December, 23, 2021 in Potter’s trial for the April 11, 2021, death of Daunte Wright, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn.

Court TV, via AP, Pool File

By Paul Walsh
Star Tribune

MINNEAPOLIS — Former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter was sentenced Friday to two years in prison for fatally shooting Daunte Wright during a traffic stop last year.

Hennepin County District Judge Regina Chu handed down the sentence after hearing victim-impact statements and arguments from the prosecution and Potter’s defense this morning.

Potter will serve the first 16 months in prison and the balance on supervised release. Chu called it “a significant downward departure” from state sentencing guidelines, adding that it was “the saddest case in my 20 years on the bench.”

“I recognize there will be those who disagree with the sentence. That I granted a significant downward departure does not in any way diminish Daunte Wright’s life. His life mattered,” Chu said. “To those who disagree and feel a longer prison sentence is appropriate, as difficult as it may be, please try to empathize with Ms. Potter’s situation,” Chu said, eventually wiping away tears. “Officer Potter made a mistake that ended tragically. She never intended to hurt anyone.”

The proceeding ended with sheriff’s deputies leading Potter away from the courtroom and back to prison.

Proceedings began shortly after 9 a.m. in the Hennepin County courtroom, who earlier this week was asked by prosecutors to hand down a prison term recommended by state sentencing guidelines — a request different from their previous intention to seek a longer-than-recommended term.

Jurors convicted Potter, 49, on Dec. 23 of first- and second-degree manslaughter for fatally shooting Wright once in the chest during an April 11, 2021, traffic stop. Potter will be sentenced on the higher count, per state law.

Potter spoke at her sentencing through sobs, expressing remorse and hoping for forgiveness from the Wright family.

Prosecutor Matthew Frank was first to address the court and spelled out why Potter should be sentenced within the guidelines range of slightly more than six years to roughly 8 1⁄2 years, rather than something less than being sought by the defense.

“We don’t doubt that Miss Potter has remorse, but this … is a courtroom full of pain and anger,” Frank said. “How do we fix that? What can we do? This is a divided community. What can be done to restore some of the faith and trust between law enforcement and the community.”

Frank said that Potter “is in a unique position to make something of what has happened for the benefit of a lot of people ... talking to officers about the dangers of weapons confusion … she can talk to manufacturers about this. She can talk to the Wright family, should they want.”

[RELATED: Unintended: A theory of TASER/weapon confusion]

Wright’s mother, Katie Bryant, was the first of his family to make victim impact statements.

” Daunte Wright is my son, my baby boy and I say ‘is’ and not ‘was’ because he will always be my son, and I’m proud to say that,” she said. “I have spent many, many sleepless nights and days contemplating how and what I was going to say today, I have to be the voice for myself, my family, my community, most of all for my son Daunte.”

Throughout her statement, Bryant referred to Potter as the defendant, because throughout trial, she said, Potter only referred to her son as “the driver,” rather than by his name.

Bryant said April 11 of last year was the worst day of her life because of a police officer sworn to protect. Instead, “She took our baby boy with a single gunshot to his heart, and she shattered mine.”

“I blame myself, I shouldn’t have told him it was gonna be alright, I told him he was gonna be OK, only to find out a few minutes later that he wasn’t,” she said of her final conversation with her son, during a phone call he placed during the traffic stop.

Bryant said she believed Potter’s remorse was only for herself, not for killing her son. She said she will continue to say her son’s name, “until driving while Black is not a death sentence.”

Defense attorney Paul Engh laid out his rationale for Potter to not go to prison but be put on probation.

“This is beyond tragic for everybody involved,” Engh said. “We hear clearly the statements of the family. We recognize them.”

He said the probation office’s report sizing up whether Potter is amenable to probation ame back in his client’s favor.

“That report alone,” Engh said to the judge, “would provide you with the authority” to impose a probationary sentence.

He said his research found that 60% of women facing a presumptive sentence of prison in Minnesota instead are put on probation.

He also reminded the court that “this was an unintentional crime. It was a mistake. I was an accident.” Engh also repeated what the defense contended in court: that Daunte Wright was an aggressor when he tried to flee three police officers who were in the process of arresting him.

Engh said that Potter remains isolated in the Shakopee women’s correctional facility for her safety, and that “all she does is spend her days getting checked every 30 minutes by a guard, making isolated phone calls, and staying in her cell.” The result, he said, has resulted in a decline in mental and physical health.

“It is harming her,” he said. “So we have on one hand punishment but sending her to prison will harm her. We are not in the business of harming defendants.”

Potter has the support of her family, and even strangers, Engh said, producing a box of cards from strangers.

“What happened to you could have happened to any of us,” Engh read from one card from a law enforcement officer. “As a law enforcement community across the country, we are reeling.”

Engh also read one from her 81-year-old mother, who wrote how much she relied on her daughter for help with everyday needs such as cleaning, paying bills and driving her around. She asked that her daughter receive probation so she can come home and continue helping her.

“Kim is my daughter but she’s also my friend,” her mother wrote. “She’s a good person and it makes me sad that people are talking so terribly about her.”

Arbuey Wright, Daunte’s father, followed Katie Bryant. Like his wife, he also was troubled that Potter smiled for her prison mug shot taken soon after her conviction.

Engh explained Potter’s smiling mug shot, saying, “There is no disrespect intended [with] the booking photo at Shakopee [prison]. She indicated they asked her to smile. She smiled.”

Arbuey Wright said “Daunte meant the world to me, made out of the unconditional love that me and my wife have for each other. Daunte was my reason to get better, to change my life.”

Noting that his son was shot in the heart, Arbuey Wright said Potter “also damaged my whole family’s heart. Everything we do as a family ends in tears because all we have is the memory of my son.”

Chyna Whitaker, the mother of Daunte Wright’s baby son, Daunte Jr., said, I’m now a single mother, not by choice but by force.”

Potter also will have an opportunity to address the court ahead of sentencing.

Soon after sentencing, reaction is being planned by state Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office led the prosecution of Potter, and lawyers representing the Wright family.

State sentencing guidelines call for a prison term between about six years and about 8½ years for first-degree manslaughter for a defendant like Potter, who has no criminal history. The presumptive term is a little over seven years. She is likely to serve two-thirds of her time in prison and the balance on supervised release.

Potter posted bond after she was charged last year and was out of custody leading up to and throughout her trial. She was immediately arrested after her conviction and is in Department of Corrections custody as she awaits sentencing.

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