Jurors will be presented with starkly different views of the Minnesota police officer who killed Black motorist Daunte Wright during opening statements at her manslaughter trial Wednesday, with the defense claiming that Kim Potter made an innocent mistake by pulling her handgun instead of her Taser and the prosecution portraying her as a veteran cop who had gone through extensive training that warned of such a mix-up.
Potter, 49, is charged with first-degree and second-degree manslaughter in Wright's April 11 death in Brooklyn Center. The white former officer — who resigned two days after the shooting — has said she meant to use her Taser on the 20-year-old Wright after he tried to drive away from a traffic stop as officers tried to arrest him, but that she grabbed her handgun instead. Her body camera recorded the shooting.
A mostly white jury was seated last week, setting the stage for testimony to begin in a case that sparked angry demonstrations outside the Brooklyn Center police station last spring.
Potter was training a new officer when they pulled Wright over for having expired license plate tags and an air freshener hanging from the rearview mirror, according to a criminal complaint.
When they found that Wright had an outstanding arrest warrant, they tried to arrest him but he got back into his car instead of cooperating. Potter's body-camera video recorded her shouting "Taser, Taser, Taser" and "I'll tase you" before she fired once with her handgun. Afterward, she is heard saying, "I grabbed the wrong (expletive) gun."
To bolster their claim that it was an accident, defense attorneys have highlighted Potter's immediate reaction and later body-camera footage that hasn't been seen by the public in which Potter is said to have repeatedly expressed remorse. But they have also asserted that Potter was within her rights to use deadly force if she had consciously chosen to do so because Wright's actions endangered other officers at the scene.
A jury of 14 people, including two white alternates, will hear the case. Nine of the 12 jurors likely to deliberate are white, one is Black and two are Asian.
The most serious charge against Potter requires prosecutors to prove recklessness, while the lesser requires them to prove culpable negligence. Minnesota's sentencing guidelines call for a prison term of just over seven years on the first-degree manslaughter count and four years on the second-degree one. Prosecutors have said they will seek a longer sentence.
Additional reporting by The Associated Press.