MINNEAPOLIS – A mostly white jury sat in on Friday for the trial of a suburban police officer in Minneapolis, who is charged with Daunte Wright’s shooting, and the opening statements were to begin on Wednesday.
Kim Potter, 49, is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter in the April 11 shooting of Wright, a 20-year-old black motorist, after a traffic jam in the suburb of Brooklyn Center.
Potter, who is white, has said she intended to use her Taser on Wright after he pulled away from officers while trying to arrest him, but that she pulled her gun by mistake. Her body camera recorded the shooting.
The last two jurors, both deputies, quickly got seats Friday morning.
Nine of the first 12 jurors sitting – those who will consider if there is no need for deputies – are white, with one juror identifying as black and two as Asian. It is evenly distributed between men and women. Demographic information about the two deputies was not immediately released by the court.
The three jurors who sat Thursday include a longtime information technology worker who said he once hoped to become a police officer and participated in a high school police investigator program, but he changed his mind because he was afraid he “would end up having to use my gun. “
He said he had a somewhat negative impression of Potter and that she should have had enough “muscle memory” to know which side of her body her Taser was on.
Also selected was a mother of two who previously worked as an IT project manager and has worked as an election judge. She said in her questionnaire that Wright should not have died for anything such as expired license plate marks – one of the reasons police indicated to pull him over. But said she could reach a verdict based on what she hears in court.
The last of the 12 is a naval veteran and former scout leader who said he competes in medieval steel combat in his spare time. He said he had been anesthetized as part of his naval training decades ago, but that the technology at Tasers has changed so much that he would have no problem putting his experience aside and reaching a verdict based on the evidence.
He said he only saw a short video clip of the shooting once and thought the situation was stressful because it seemed like many things were happening at once.
The defense used one of its compelling challenges on Thursday to fire a 1st-year law student who has commented on social media about cases in which police officers have been convicted. Such challenges cannot be posed solely because of a person’s race, ethnicity or gender, and prosecutor Matthew Frank protested against the dismissal of the law student, an Asian woman.
Judge Regina Chu rejected Frank’s objection and ruled that there was no evidence that the defense’s strike was based on race or gender.
One of the jurors sitting the first day was recalled for questioning on Thursday after Chu said he had expressed concern that his identity was revealed when he was first questioned. The jury is anonymous by order of the judge. The man remained on the jury after telling Chu he was willing to continue serving.
Lawyers and judges have investigated potential jurors for what they knew about Wright’s death and about their views on protests against police brutality that were frequent in Minneapolis, even before George Floyd’s death.
Potter, who withdrew two days after she shot and killed Wright, has told the court she will testify. Body camera video recorded the shooting, where Potter heard him say, “Taser, Taser, Taser,” before firing, followed by: “I grabbed the wrong (explosive) gun.”
Wright was shot in the Brooklyn Center when former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin stood trial 16 miles away for killing Floyd. Wright’s death triggered several nights of intense protests in the suburbs.
The most serious charge against Potter requires prosecutors to prove ruthlessness; the least only requires that they prove guilty negligence. Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines require a sentence of just over seven years for first-degree manslaughter and four years for second-degree. Prosecutors have said they will seek a longer sentence.