Jurors Seated for Kimberly Potter’s Trial over Daunte Wright’s Death
Many of the jurors said they had already seen body camera video of Ms. Potter, a former police officer in Brooklyn Center, Minn., fatally shooting Daunte Wright after seeming to mistake her gun for her Taser.,
A nurse, a teacher, a bassist and a student who will have to postpone her final exams are among the jurors seated for the trial of Kimberly Potter, the former police officer who faces manslaughter charges in the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, when she seemed to mistake her gun for her Taser.
Twelve jurors and two alternates will consider evidence in perhaps the highest-profile trial of a police officer since the spring, when a jury convicted a former Minneapolis officer, Derek Chauvin, of murdering George Floyd. Ms. Potter’s trial is scheduled to begin next week in the same courtroom where Mr. Chauvin was tried, and it is expected to continue until about Christmas.
Ms. Potter, who is white, was an officer with the police department in Brooklyn Center, Minn., a Minneapolis suburb, when she fired one shot into Mr. Wright, who was Black, as he tried to break free of another officer who had begun to handcuff him.
Ms. Potter, 49, shot Mr. Wright, a 20-year-old father, in April during a traffic stop that took place during the Chauvin trial. The shooting set off a week of turbulent protests outside the suburban police department’s headquarters.
The jurors for the Potter trial were chosen over four days this week, with the final juror seated on Friday. Prosecutors from the state attorney general’s office and Ms. Potter’s defense lawyers interviewed prospective jurors, and each side was allowed to eliminate a limited number of people from the panel.
Three-quarters of the 12 jurors who have emerged from that process are white, roughly matching the proportion of white people in Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis and many of its suburbs. Two of the 12 jurors are Asian and one is Black; Hennepin County is 7.5 percent Asian and about 14 percent Black. The jury is evenly split between men and women, and the jurors’ ages range from the 20s to the 60s.
The two alternate jurors will hear all the evidence, testimony and arguments of the trial but will not deliberate over a verdict unless a primary juror is excused for some reason, like falling ill or failing to follow the judge’s orders to avoid news coverage of the case. The alternate jurors, who are both white, are not supposed to know that they are alternates until it is time for deliberations to begin.
Many of the chosen jurors said they had seen the minute-long body camera video that was released the day after the shooting, and had heard about the case on the news or, in some cases, had lived near businesses that were vandalized during the street demonstrations after the shooting. The body camera video is likely to play a pivotal role in the trial.
In the portion of the video that has been released publicly, an officer whom Ms. Potter was training can be seen trying to handcuff Mr. Wright. The officers had pulled Mr. Wright over because his car had an expired registration tab and an air freshener dangling from the car’s rearview mirror, prosecutors said. The officers then learned that a judge had issued a warrant for Mr. Wright’s arrest after Mr. Wright missed a court date where he was to face a charge of illegally possessing a gun.
When Mr. Wright evaded the trainee officer’s grip and got back into the driver’s seat of his car, Ms. Potter is heard in the video threatening to stun Mr. Wright with her Taser, but she was actually aiming her handgun at him. She yelled, “Taser! Taser! Taser!” and fired one shot, which prosecutors said pierced his lungs and heart. Ms. Potter is then heard to swear and say, “I just shot him.”
Another crucial piece of evidence is likely to be Ms. Potter’s own testimony. Ms. Potter, who resigned from the force two days after the shooting, has not spoken publicly, but her lawyers said during jury selection that she planned to testify at trial, and she confirmed as much to the judge.
As they filling out questionnaires about the case, several of the chosen jurors said they had a “somewhat negative” view of Ms. Potter. Her testimony is likely to be vital to the defense, to explain what she was thinking as she used her weapon.
Prosecutors have charged Ms. Potter with first-degree manslaughter and second-degree manslaughter. A conviction on either count would probably bring a sentence of at least several years in prison. Prosecutors do not charge that the killing was intentional, but rather that Ms. Potter handled her gun recklessly, acting “with such force and violence” that killing or seriously wounding someone was “reasonably foreseeable.”
Several of the jurors who said they viewed Ms. Potter negatively said they also viewed Mr. Wright negatively.
“He was considered to be more of a trouble child,” one juror said during jury selection, describing what she had heard in the news. That juror, a teacher and the only Black juror, said the killing of Mr. Wright reminded her of other “terrible situations,” including the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, by a white man in Georgia; he and two others were convicted of murder in the case in November. She also said that police officers “have to maintain” a “level of professionalism” in tough situations.
All the jurors who were chosen said they could put their own preconceptions about the case aside and evaluate the evidence at trial impartially.
Several jurors who were chosen expressed worry over their identities being released by the court after the trial concludes.
“No matter which direction this takes, there’s going to be a large portion of people that aren’t going to be happy,” said a white juror in his 40s who works in information security. That juror said he had once wanted to be a police officer, but chose a different career because he was “afraid that I’d end up having to use my gun.”
The trial proceedings are being streamed live, a rarity in Minnesota. Though jurors are not shown on camera, one juror said friends had recognized him during jury selection by his voice and by the details of the answers he gave to questions. One of Ms. Potter’s lawyers also mistakenly uttered the juror’s surname in court.
That juror, who is white, said he was frightened by being recognized but had so far been contacted about it only by people who already knew him. He said he still wanted to serve on the jury.
Several other jurors said they had concerns about taking part in the trial.
The student who will have to postpone her exams had said explicitly that she did not want to be on the jury because of her tests and because she had many friends and relatives who were “very opinionated” about the case. Even so, the juror, an Asian woman in her 20s, said she was sure she could put those influences aside and decide the case fairly.
Another juror, a retired teacher in her 60s, said she was afraid that she might be “overcome with emotion” during intense testimony, because she had been treated for depression and anxiety and because one of her daughters died less than two years ago. Neither the prosecution nor the defense moved to exclude the woman, who is white, so she was chosen for the jury after she said she believed she could be fair and focused.
“I go through day to day, and I’m able to manage taking care of myself,” she said in court. She added: “I guess if I can do that, I feel like I could hold it together.”