Minnesota prosecutors have apparently backed away from their pursuit of a longer-than-usual sentence for the suburban Minneapolis police officer who said she confused her handgun for her Taser when she killed Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black motorist.
Kimberly Potter, 49, is scheduled to be sentenced Friday following her December conviction of first-degree manslaughter. In a court filing this week, prosecutors said a sentence of slightly more than seven years — which is the presumed penalty under the state's guidelines — would be proper.
“The presumptive sentence takes into account the main elements of the conviction: the death of Daunte Wright and Defendant’s recklessness,” prosecutor Matt Frank wrote.
Potter’s attorneys are asking for less than usual, including only probation. Frank wrote that prosecutors disagree with the defense, but “the State recognizes that this is a unique case given the context in which Defendant Potter recklessly handled her firearm.”
Potter was convicted of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter in the April 11 killing of Wright, who was pulled over by Brooklyn Center officers for having expired license plate tags and an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror. Officers learned he had an outstanding warrant for a weapons possession charge, and he pulled away as they tried to arrest him.
Video shows that Potter shouted several times that she was going to tase Wright, but she had her gun in her hand and fired one shot into his chest.
Your support makes a difference.
MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.
Under Minnesota statutes, Potter, who is white, will be sentenced only on the most serious conviction of first-degree manslaughter. State sentencing guidelines call for a penalty ranging from slightly more than six years to about 8 1/2 years, with the presumptive sentence being just over seven years. The sentencing guidelines are advisory, but judges can’t go above or below them unless they find a compelling reason.
Prosecutors initially argued that aggravating factors warranted a sentence above the guideline range. Among them, prosecutors said Potter abused her authority as an officer and that her actions caused a greater-than-normal danger to others.
There is no indication in the court record that they have formally withdrawn that argument, but the document filed Tuesday indicates they are taking a new approach and now believe the presumptive sentence is appropriate.
Defense attorneys, in seeking a lighter sentence, have argued that Wright was the aggressor and that he would be alive if he had obeyed commands.
In their request for probation only, Potter’s attorneys said she has no prior record, is remorseful, has had an exemplary career and has the support of family and friends. They also said her risk of committing the same crime again is low because she is no longer a police officer, and they said she would do well on probation.
Prosecutors disagreed with the defense's reasoning. In Tuesday's filings, Frank wrote that to sentence Potter to only probation, the judge would have to find that probation would serve society’s interests, not Potter’s, and that the defense must establish that. But Frank also said there could be some benefits to probation. Among them, Potter could speak to law enforcement groups or lawmakers about the dangers of confusing a handgun for a Taser.
Frank said she could also speak to manufacturers about making design changes to avoid confusion. And, he said, she could acknowledge her failure and try to help the community heal to “honor the memory of Daunte Wright.”
“No prison sentence can bring Daunte Wright back to life. A prison sentence is just a number, and that number cannot undo this tragedy or bring Daunte Wright back to his family," Frank wrote. “Fostering healing and community restoration is valuable, too.”
Frank also disagreed with defense arguments that Potter should be given a sentence that goes below the guideline range.
If the court finds that Potter's case is less serious than the typical first-degree manslaughter case, he wrote, the court should issue a sentence between four and slightly over seven years, the presumptive sentences for second-degree and first-degree manslaughter.
“To impose anything less would fail to take into account Daunte Wright’s death and the jury’s finding that Defendant Potter committed first-degree manslaughter,” Frank wrote.
In Minnesota, it’s presumed that convicts who show good behavior will serve two-thirds of their sentence in prison and the rest on supervised release, commonly known as parole. That means if Potter gets the roughly seven-year presumptive sentence, she would serve about four years and nine months behind bars, with the rest on parole.
Potter has been at the state’s women’s prison in Shakopee since the guilty verdict.