MINEAPOLIS – The Minnesota prosecutor’s office apparently refused to pursue a longer-than-usual sentence for a Minneapolis suburban police officer who said he confused a pistol with a taser when he killed Down Wright, a 20-year-old black motorist.
Kim PotterThe 49-year sentence is scheduled to be handed down on Friday after her December verdict for manslaughter. In a court statement this week, prosecutors said the sentence of just over seven years – an alleged sentence under state recommendations – would be correct.
“The verdict in the opinion takes into account the main elements of the conviction: the death of Downt Wright and the negligence of the defendant,” wrote prosecutor Matt Frank.
Potter’s lawyers are asking for less than usual, including only a conditional term. Frank wrote that prosecutors disagreed with the defense, but “the state acknowledges that this is a unique case, given the context in which defendant Potter recklessly handled his firearms.”
Potter was convicted of first- and second-degree manslaughter as a result of Wright’s April 11 murder, which was stopped by Brooklyn Center staff for having expired license plates and an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror. Officers learned he had an outstanding warrant for charges of possession of a weapon, and he withdrew when they tried to arrest him.
The video shows Potter shouting several times that she was going to beat Wright, but she held a gun in her hand and shot him in the chest.
Under Minnesota statute, Potter, who is white, will be convicted only on the most serious sentence for first-degree manslaughter. State sentencing guidelines provide for sentences ranging from just over six years to about 8 and a half years, with an estimated sentence of just over seven years. Recommendations for sentencing are advisory in nature, but judges cannot go above or below them unless they find a good reason.
Initially, this was claimed by the prosecutor’s office aggravating circumstances justified the verdict above the indicative range. Among them, prosecutors said Potter was abusing her authority and that her actions posed a greater danger to other people than usual.
There are no indications in the court record that they formally withdrew the argument, but a document filed Tuesday suggests they are using a new approach and now believe the alleged verdict is appropriate.
Lawyers, seeking mitigation of the sentence, claimed that Wright was the aggressor and that he would have been alive if he had obeyed the commands.
In their petition only on probation, Potter’s lawyers said she has no previous services, repents, has made an exemplary career and has the support of family and friends. They also said her risk of re-committing the same crime is low because she is no longer a police officer and they said she is coping well with probation.
Prosecutors disagreed with the defense’s views. In documents Tuesday, Frank wrote that to sentence Potter only to probation, a judge will have to recognize that probation will serve the public interest, not Potter, and that the defense must establish this. But Frank also said a suspended sentence could benefit. Among them, Potter could talk to law enforcement or lawmakers danger of getting confused pistol for taser.
Frank said she can also talk to manufacturers about making changes to the design to avoid confusion. And, he said, she could admit her failure and try to help the community heal to “honor the memory of Downt Wright.”
“No prison can bring Daunt Wright back to life. The prison sentence is just a number, and that number can’t undo this tragedy or bring Downt Wright back to his family, Frank wrote. =
Frank also disagreed with the defense’s argument that Potter should be sentenced below the recommended range.
If the court finds Potter’s case less serious than a typical first-degree manslaughter case, he wrote, the court should hand down a sentence of four to just over seven years, presumed sentences of second- and first-degree manslaughter.
“To impose something smaller, one could not take into account the death of Downt Wright and the jury’s conclusion that defendant Potter committed unintentional first-degree murder,” Frank wrote.
Potter has been in Shakapi State Women’s Prison since his conviction.
Find full coverage of Dow Wright’s AP case: /hub/death-of-daunte-wright
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