Kimberly Potter trial: Jury chosen; opening statements Wednesday

A woman speaks to someone while behind a desk.
Hennepin County judge Regina Chu speaks with a potential juror during the trial of former police officer Kimberly Potter on Thursday.
Screenshot from Court TV

3 things to know:

  • Ex-Brooklyn Center officer Kimberly Potter faces first- and second-degree manslaughter; attorney says Potter will testify in her own defense during trial

  • 12 jurors and 2 alternates chosen; jury selection ended Friday

  • Opening statements set for Dec. 8; judge hopes to be done by Christmas Eve

Updated 12:58 p.m.

Prosecutors, defense attorneys and Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu finished their work Friday to pick a jury for the trial of Kimberly Potter, the former Brooklyn Center police officer charged in the Daunte Wright killing.

Fourteen jurors, including two alternates, were selected from a pool of roughly 250 people who filled out detailed questionnaires probing their views on race, police and crime.

Chu has penciled in Dec. 8 for the start of opening statements in the trial. The trial is expected to end by Dec. 24, Christmas Eve.

Seven women and seven men were chosen. According to demographic information provided by the court, 11 are white, two are of Asian descent and one person is Black. Alternate jurors listen to the testimony but don’t deliberate the verdicts.

The 13th juror, seated Friday morning, told prosecutors society should be examining issues around race and policing. She said she generally trusts police but added they can’t always be trusted.

The final juror selected was an Eden Prairie man who said he has a close friend who is a police officer, but added that wouldn’t affect his ability to serve.

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Potter, 49, faces first-degree and second-degree manslaughter in the killing of Wright as Brooklyn Center police attempted to take him into custody during a traffic stop on April 11.

Possible strategies surface in jury selection

Prosecutors are expected to argue Potter’s actions were especially reckless given her extensive Taser training months before the incident.

Potter's defense is expected to argue she meant to fire her Taser to subdue Wright, 20, but accidentally drew her service weapon and shot the man once in the chest, killing him. She has pleaded not guilty and is expected to testify in her defense during the trial.

A man speaks from behind a desk.
Defense attorney Earl Gray speaks to a potential juror during jury selection in the trial of former police officer Kimberly Potter on Thursday.
Screenshot of Court TV video

The prosecutor’s questions during jury selection point to them building a very straightforward case of Potter’s guilt, said Twin Cities trial attorney Lee Hutton.

“They want individuals that will not only hold someone who makes a mistake that violates the law accountable, but at least are empathetic with regard to the world situation … whether it be officers’ interactions with people of color, gun control,” Hutton said.

Hutton said it’s clear that the defense team wanted some people who have experience with firearms or Tasers because they may be more sympathetic to the use of these weapons by police officers. But he said Potter will also need to address whether she followed her training and department policies when she drew a weapon.

“Her defense is going to be, ‘Yes, I shot the gun – that is undeniable. But it was an innocent mistake,’” Hutton said. “We'll have to see how, with her 20 years of training, the fact that she's a veteran officer, how can that mistake be so innocent in this type of situation?” 

Wright’s killing set off days of protests and property destruction in the Twin Cities suburb, with demonstrators saying Wright’s killing was an example of racial bias by police against Black people.

The prosecution is not characterizing Wright's killing as racially motivated. But civil rights advocates have pointed to a long history of officers not being held accountable when they kill unarmed Black people. Potter is white. Wright was Black.

7 women, 7 men chosen as jurors

While the trial is being livestreamed, the court is protecting the identities of the jurors. That became an issue earlier in the week when Potter defense attorney Earl Gray twice used the last names of two potential jurors, asking questions of one juror about his life that made it easy to discover his name.

That juror later told the court he didn’t realize jury selection was being livestreamed. While juror faces are not being shown in the broadcast, the juror said he was very troubled about his identity being easy to deduce. Gray later apologized.

Here’s a brief look at those seated Tuesday through Thursday this week:

  • The first juror chosen said he’d lived in Washington, D.C., for 16 years, has a career related to medicine and that he deals with facts at work.

  • The second selected described herself as a retired teacher. She seemed to come down in the middle on questions around support for police and Black Lives Matter protesters. She was concerned about the trial’s emotion toll, but added that she could be fair.

  • The third chosen said they worked overnight at a distribution center for a retail store chain and also played in a rock band. The person once owned a Taser stun gun several years ago and has seen the body camera video of the Wright shooting.

  • The fourth juror mentioned during questioning that she had a female friend who was fatally stabbed five years ago in Minneapolis. She said she respects police, but could also be an impartial juror.

  • The fifth juror seated indicated she was a recent graduate of either high school or college. She said she did not support defunding police and added, "You’re always going to need police officers and there are always going to be bad things that happen, we need them."

  • The sixth is a teacher would said she owned a compact Taser stun gun for protection. She indicated she found both the Blue Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter movements divisive. Chu noted the juror checked “yes,” “no,” and “not sure” on her questionnaire asking if she’d be willing to serve on a jury. “It’s unfamiliar territory,” the juror said.

  • The seventh juror said he has a brother-in-law in law enforcement on the East Coast and served on a prior jury about protestors trespassing. He said he didn’t condone anyone fleeing from police but added that Potter’s actions should have been better thought out.

  • The eighth juror said he is a registered nurse in private home health care who has a “neutral” impression of Potter and Wright. He added that he doesn’t “have a reason not to trust [police] … They’ve got difficult decisions to make at times.” 

  • The ninth juror said she didn’t want to serve as a juror. “I have a lot of friends and family that are very opinionated in the matter,” she said. And added that she could put her biases aside, but acknowledged that she has a lot of influences surrounding her.

  • The tenth person, seated Thursday morning, said he’d been in a high school police explorer group and once thought about pursuing a career in law enforcement but changed course because "I was afraid I'd have to use my gun.”

  • The eleventh juror said she’d attended a past protest against immigration authorities related to children in cages at the border. On her questionnaire, she'd written "Daunte should not have died" for expired tabs, a reference to the police explanation of why Wright was stopped in April.

  • The twelfth juror, picked late afternoon on Thursday, said he was a gun owner who served in the Navy and had been stunned with a stun gun as part of military training. He said he worked in technology safety. His wife and child were carjacked last year but he said that wouldn’t affect his ability to weigh evidence in Potter’s trial.

Trial basics

8 key questions, answered: Kimberly Potter shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop in April. His killing set off days of protests and unrest in Brooklyn Center, with demonstrators saying Wright’s killing was an example of racial bias by police against Black people.

The charges: The former officer is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter. Here’s a look at what the charges mean and the potential penalties.

Questions about the Potter trial? Ask us