MINERESPOLIS, Minnesota (AP) – A former Minneapolis suburban police officer who said she confused a pistol with a taser when she fatally shot Downt Wright was sentenced Friday to two years in prison, a sentence below the state’s recommendation after considered that the mitigating circumstances justified a lesser punishment.
Kim Potter was convicted in December of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter in the April 11 murder of Wright, a 20-year-old black motorist. She was only sentenced on a more serious charge under state law.
For those with no criminal history, such as Potter, state recommendations on this charge range from just over six years to about 8 and a half years in prison, with an estimated sentence of just over seven years.
Prosecutors said the alleged sentence was correct, but defense attorneys asked for a sentence lower than the recommendations, including only a suspended sentence.
Judge Regina Chu handed down the verdict after hearing Wright and Potter’s family.
Wright’s mother said she would never be able to forgive Potter and would only call her a “defendant” because Potter called his 20-year-old son a “driver” only in court.
“She never said his name. And for that I will never be able to forgive you. And I will never be able to forgive you for stealing from us, ”Wright said tearfully.
“The police officer who had to serve and protect so much took so much from us … My life and my world will never be the same again,” she said, adding later: “Donte Demetrius Wright, I will continue to fight for your name, as long as driving, as long as black, will no longer be a death sentence ”.
Wright was killed after Brooklyn Center staff stopped him for having his license expired and an air freshener hung on his rearview mirror. The shooting, which came in the midst of Derek Shaven’s trial for the murder of George Floyd, sparked days of demonstrations near the Brooklyn Center police station, marked by tear gas and clashes between protesters and police.
Potter was convicted in December of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter in the April 11 murder. She will be convicted only on the most serious charge of first-degree manslaughter, which carries a sentence of just over seven years in prison.
Prosecutor Matt Frank said Friday that he believes the alleged verdict is appropriate, given Potter’s loss of life and culpable negligence.
“His life mattered, and that life was taken away,” Frank said. “His name is Downt Wright. We have to say his name. He was not just a driver. He was a living man. Life. “
Defense attorney Paul Eng told the judge that Wright’s death was “extremely tragic for all participants.” But he added: “It was an unintentional crime. It was an accident. It was a mistake. “
Eng picked up the box with what he said were among the “thousands” of letters and cards in support of Potter.
“People took the time to write to her,” Eng said. “It’s unheard of for the defendant. I dare say that no one in this room has ever seen anything like it. “
He urged the judge to sentence Potter to probation, saying recommendations for sentencing are often not followed because they are too high for many defendants, including first-time offenders. He said Potter would be ready to meet with Wright’s family and talk to police about Taser’s confusion.
If Potter is not sentenced to probation, she should receive a lesser-than-usual sentence because Wright was the aggressor, Eng said. Testimony from other officers at the scene showed it was a dangerous situation because Wright was trying to leave, he said.
“It was an aggressive act. I don’t know how it could not have been an aggressive act, “said Eng, who also said that Potter had the right to defend other officers and that she should never have been accused of first-degree murder.
Witnesses at Potter’s trial testified that officers learned he had an unfulfilled warrant for charges of possession of a weapon, and they tried to arrest him when he retired. The video shows Potter shouting several times that she was going to use her stun gun on Wright, but she held a gun in her hand and shot him in the chest.
Potter has been in Shakapi State Women’s Prison since his conviction. Her lawyer said Friday that her mental and physical health had deteriorated because she was isolated for her own safety.
“If you send her to jail, you will harm her,” Eng said. “We are not harming the defendants.”
Potter was also expected to make a statement.
Earlier, Wright’s father and brothers and sisters went to court to say their loss.
Wright’s son’s mother, China Whitaker, said Friday that Wright will never be able to play ball with his son or see him go to school.
“My son doesn’t need to wear his father’s shirt, rest in peace,” Whitaker said.
For those with no criminal history, such as Potter, state guidelines for first-degree manslaughter include a sentence of just over six years to about 8 and a half years in prison, with an estimated sentence of just over seven years. .
In Minnesota, well-behaved prisoners are expected to serve two-thirds of their sentences in prison and the remainder under supervision, commonly known as parole. This means that if Potter receives about seven years of alleged imprisonment, she will serve about four years and nine months in custody, and the rest – parole.
The story has been corrected to show that Potter faces a conviction for first-degree manslaughter, not first-degree murder.
Weber contributed from Fenton, Michigan.