Legal expert breaks down addition of 1st-degree manslaughter charge against Kim Potter
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The body camera video shows the moment Daunte Wright was shot. In the video, you can hear then-Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter shouting, "Taser, Taser, Taser."
Despite those words, the video then shows Potter firing her service weapon, killing Wright during a traffic stop in April.
The former officer is then seen shouting, "holy **** I just shot him."
Police later said Potter meant to grab her Taser instead of her gun.
In the following days, Potter was charged with second-degree manslaughter. On Thursday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed an amended complaint that includes a charge of first-degree manslaughter, in addition to the earlier second-degree charge.
"It’s a more serious charge, but in a way, it’s a little bit more appropriate probably is my gut reaction," said Rachel Moran, an associate professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. "It seems that the attorney general has decided not that she was indifferent, but that she was reckless."
The words, "reckless handling or use of a firearm" are included in the criminal complaint.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked Moran about the differences between the two charges. She said one factor between the two is what the state has to prove about Potter’s mental state.
"This new charge, first-degree manslaughter, only requires the state to prove that Officer Potter is being reckless in her handling of the firearm," Moran explained. "In the lesser charge, the state actually has to prove that Officer Potter was consciously disregarding a risk of death or great bodily harm, which in some ways seems harder to prove in this case."
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS spoke briefly with Earl Gray, Potter’s attorney, on the phone. He said he’s surprised by the new charge.
"Kim Potter’s case is a clear accident," Gray said. "No criminal intent, no negligent intent and certainly no reckless intent… she made a mistake."
In the court documents, prosecutors also note that Potter completed two Taser training courses — one of them, shortly before the shooting. Moran said that’s another factor that could bolster the prosecution’s case.
"The complaint now shows that she had been trained only about a month before the shooting," she noted. "Had a Taser training where she was reminded that this handling of a Taser, and specifically mistaking it, the gun for a Taser is a risk and could cause death. And she signed off on a piece of paper acknowledging she had received that training."
Wright’s family issued a statement through its attorneys, which says in part, "The amended complaint further details how no reasonable officer could confuse their sidearm for a Taser. Kimberly Potter’s killing of Daunte Wright was not a mere accident."
The case is scheduled to go to trial on Nov. 30.
In Minnesota, the maximum sentence for first-degree manslaughter — if convicted — is 15 years in prison and a $30,000 fine. The maximum for second-degree manslaughter is 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
Moran says there will likely be a wide range of opinions about the new charge.
"If I’m Officer Potter, I am alarmed by the development. I think some people will be pleased with it, some people will be dissatisfied," Moran said. "But my sense is that the state has thoroughly reviewed the evidence and does believe that this might just be a more appropriate fit for what happened, this new first-degree manslaughter charge."