Lawyer asks judge to toss new charge in Daunte Wright case

mugshots of a white female police officer
Former Brooklyn Center Police Officer Kim Potter poses for a mugshot at the Hennepin County Jail on April 14.
Hennepin County Sheriff's Office via Getty Images

Attorneys asked a judge Wednesday to dismiss a new manslaughter charge against the former suburban Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed Daunte Wright during a traffic stop this spring.

Former Brooklyn Center Officer Kim Potter says she mistakenly drew her firearm instead of her stun gun as Wright was trying to drive away from officers during the stop in April. Potter is recorded on body-camera video an instant after the shooting saying she drew the wrong weapon. Potter is white. Wright was Black. His death sparked several nights of protests.

Prosecutors charged her with second-degree manslaughter. Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office later took over the case, added a count of first-degree manslaughter earlier this month.

Potter is scheduled to stand trial in December. The second-degree manslaughter charge is punishable by up to 10 years in prison; first-degree has a maximum 15-year sentence.

Potter's attorneys, Paul Engh and Earl Gray, filed a motion Wednesday seeking to dismiss the new charge. They argued that Minnesota statutes define first-degree manslaughter as endangering someone by recklessly handling a gun or other dangerous weapon and Potter didn't consciously realize she was holding a gun or was about to fire it.

They went on to argue that Potter was justified in using reasonable force to stop Wright and protect other officers at the scene, maintaining that at least one officer and possibly two were clinging to Wright's car as he drove off and could have been killed.

Engh and Gray acknowledged that argument is based on a version of Minnesota use-of-force statutes that allow officers to use deadly force to protect themselves or to carry out the arrest or prevent the escape of someone suspected of committing a felony.

The attorneys acknowledged those statutes weren't in effect on the day of the Wright stop. They had been replaced by new standards requiring officers to justify use-of-force in specific terms adopted in the wake of George Floyd's death in Minneapolis.

A Ramsey County judge on Monday suspended the new standards pending a lawsuit by law enforcement lobbying groups. Potter's attorneys said the old standards should apply in her case.

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