A jury has been selected in the manslaughter trial of former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter, charged in the death of Daunte Wright in a Minneapolis suburb this past April.
The 12-person panel includes six men and six women. Nine are white, two are Asian and one is Black, according to how the jurors self-identified to the court. Their ages range from 20s to 60s.
Two other people were selected to serve as alternates.
The panel is charged with determining whether Potter is guilty of first- and second-degree manslaughter in Wright’s death. Prosecutors say Potter, a veteran Brooklyn Center police officer, recklessly handled her firearm and consciously took a chance of causing death or great bodily harm to Wright. Defense attorneys say Potter made an “innocent mistake.”
The first-degree manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and/or a $30,000 fine. The second-degree charge has a maximum sentence of 10 years and/or a $20,000 fine.
Bodycam video shows Potter yelled ‘Taser, Taser, Taser’
Potter and a trainee officer pulled Wright and another woman over on April 11 because the car Wright was driving had an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror and the tags were expired, according to the complaint.
The officers attempted to arrest Wright once they discovered he had an outstanding warrant, according to the complaint. Body camera video of the incident showed Wright initially followed officers’ instructions to get out of the car and place his hands behind his back. Wright then pulled away as an officer attempted to handcuff him and got back into the driver’s seat of the car.
That’s when Potter yelled “Taser, Taser, Taser” and shot Wright with her firearm, according to body camera video. Potter can be heard on the video saying she “grabbed the wrong” gun.
Wright drove his car down the street and crashed into another vehicle. He was pronounced dead at the scene, and the woman he was with was taken to a hospital. A medical examiner later found Wright died by homicide due to a gunshot wound.
‘Wrong gun’ or manslaughter? Former Minnesota officer Kim Potter goes on trial for Daunte Wright shooting
Who is on the jury?
The panel of 12 includes: a nurse, a teacher, a retired teacher, a student, an engineer, an IT professional, a former IT professional, an operational manager at a large retailer and an editor of medical publications, among others who did not state their professions.
About 68% of Hennepin County residents are non-Hispanic white, nearly 14% are Black, 7.5% are Asian, and 7% are Hispanic or Latino, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The jury, with nine white panelists, is 75% white.
Given the high-profile nature of the trial, would-be jurors received a 15-page questionnaire prior to jury selection soliciting their opinions on a range of topics. In individual questioning before the court, attorneys questioned prospective jurors on their answers in the questionnaire.
All of the jurors said they knew of the case from news media, and nearly all said they had seen body camera video of the incident. Five jurors indicated they had a “somewhat negative” view of Potter, including three who also indicated a negative view of Wright.
One juror, a white woman in her 60s, told the court she recalled hearing Potter shout “Taser, Taser, Taser” in a recording of the incident she heard on the news.
“When I first heard about this, my reaction was, how could this happen? And that’s kind of where I’m still at,” she said.
How could a gun be mistaken for a Taser? There have been at least 16 incidents of ‘weapon confusion’ since 2001
A white man in his 40s who said he originally went to school to be a cop said Potter should have had “enough muscle memory” to prevent mistaking her gun for a Taser. He also said Wright “made a bad decision” and “tried to get back into his car.”
Four jurors own firearms, and two own or used to own a stun gun. Attorneys instructed jurors that they would need to set aside their personal knowledge or training on the weapons in court.
Jurors answered a series of questions about their trust in law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Five said they have family with military or law enforcement experience. One said he is a military veteran.
Three said police in their community make them feel safe, and two said they don’t agree with the “defund the police” movement. Two others said law enforcement officers don’t get the respect they deserve. One said he is “slightly distrustful” of cops
Attorneys asked jurors about whether it’s right to second-guess the split-second decisions of police officers. Three jurors said they disagreed that police shouldn’t face scrutiny for decisions they make because of their dangerous jobs. Another said he “somewhat agreed” with the same statement.
Multiple jurors expressed doubts about the fairness of jury trials and the criminal justice system. “I think there’s a systemic racism problem in the system. I don’t think that necessarily effects this case,” said one juror, who was seated.
Many jurors were asked about their views of Blue Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter and the demonstrations and destruction that happened after Wright’s death. Four said they had unfavorable views of Blue Lives Matter, and one said they had unfavorable views of Black Lives Matter.
Multiple jurors said they were impacted by the looting and destruction in the wake of Wright’s death. One juror, an Asian woman in her 40s, said she didn’t feel safe at night following the shooting and “heard bullets” from her home.
Several expressed concerns about their identities being made public and said they were afraid for their families. Hennepin County District Court Judge Regina Chu ruled jurors would remain anonymous until after the trial is over.
The defense used all five of its peremptory strikes, and the state used its three, meaning they dismissed a juror without having to state a reason.
Thursday, the state issued a Batson challenge after the defense struck a young Asian woman, arguing the strike was discriminatory. Chu ruled the strike was no discriminatory and noted two Asian women were already on the jury.
Multiple would-be jurors were excused due to medical issues, work conflicts, holiday travel plans and language barriers. Several said they could not be impartial in the case.
Potter sat beside her attorneys in plain clothes and deliberated with them throughout jury selection. Wright’s mother, father, brothers and sisters attended portions of jury selection.
Trial livestreamed, opening statements start Dec. 8
The trial is being livestreamed – the second time in Minnesota history that a judge has allowed cameras inside the courtroom for a criminal trial. The first time was for the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer convicted of murdering George Floyd.
Opening statements for the trial, which will be livestreamed, are expected to begin Dec. 8. Judge Chu said she hopes the trial will wrap up “by Christmas Eve.”