Jury selection in the manslaughter trial of former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter ended Thursday with the number chosen increasing by three to 12, leaving two more spots to fill.
Judge Regina Chu said 14 jurors will be seated with the final pair serving as alternates who will be dismissed before the jury begins deliberating whether Potter is guilty of either first- or second-degree manslaughter for killing Wright in April as he attempted to evade arrest on a gross-misdemeanor warrant.
Jury selection resumes Friday. Opening statements are scheduled for Dec. 8.
The 12 on the panel break down this way: six men and six women; nine white, two Asian and one Black; three in their 20s, one in their 30s, four in their 40s, two in their 50s and two in their 60s.
After a lunch break Thursday, the court took up questioning of a juror whose last name and age were disclosed Tuesday while defense attorney Earl Grayquizzed him. The name of the juror's rock band also was heard over the global livestream during the back and forth.
Although the courtroom remained open, Chu ordered that the questioning of the juror not be livestreamed. According to pool report notes, the juror was concerned about his identity becoming public because friends and co-workers contacted him after his name and the name of his band were broadcast Tuesday. He says, however, that he thinks he can still be a juror and remains on the panel.
The juror told the court that he feels reassured the disclosures will not bring him harm. Gray apologized, and said, "I'm the culprit that started this whole thing" by saying the juror's name in open court.
Out of concern for privacy and security, the court has assured prospective jurors anonymity throughout the trial, whether it be while they are being questioned or once they are actually chosen. After some yet to be determined amount of time, their identities would then be released by the court.
The 11th juror selected works in IT as a project manager, and lives in Minneapolis with two small children. She wrote in her questionnaire that Wright "should not have died for something like expired [car registration] tabs."
The woman, white and in her 40s, said she attended a protest near the Twin Cities office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency over the detention of children in cages near the Southern Border.
She answered "somewhat disagree" on the questionnaire when answering whether police make her feel safe, then explained in court that "I guess I'm just nervous around authority."
The 12th person added to the jury is a white male in his 50s who works in data protection to "keep my customers from getting hacked." He's a Navy veteran who was voluntarily tasered while serving in the Navy.
He shared with the court that his wife and daughter were victims of a violent attempted carjacking in south Minneapolis in the spring of 2020 carried out by four suspects who were either Hispanic or Black.
Prosecutor Matthew Frank asked whether his family's experience would affect him while serving on a jury with a white defendant, Potter, and a Black victim, Wright. He said he would have "no difficulty."
He said he has seen the police body camera video from the scene of Wright being shot and said "it looked like a lot of things were happening there." He agreed that he would need to as a juror set that viewing aside in order to just the case fairly.
Attorneys on both sides and the judge were curious about the juror's participation in what he called "armored medieval steel fighting."
He said he gets to "pick up steel weapons and hit my friends with them. ... It's a very fun time. It's my 'Monday Night Football,' so to speak."
The 10th juror, an IT security consultant who is married with children, said he had once considered being a police officer but changed his mind out of fear "I'd end up having to use my gun."
He said he has seen the police body camera video of Potter's encounter with Wright, and "it didn't look like the situation was being handled. … it didn't appear that the [younger] officer was in charge."
Once Potter stepped in, the juror wrote in his questionnaire, "she should have hade enough 'muscle memory' " to know she was holding her handgun and not a Taser before shooting Wright.
Elaborating in court, he explained, "It's kind of like which foot uses the gas and which uses the brake."
In spite of that assessment, the man, who is white and in his 40s, pledged he could give Potter the legally required presumption of innocence throughout the trial.
Thursday afternoon's first prospective juror was a first-year law student who the defense excused with a peremptory strike after said she has been active in police reform efforts.
In her questionnaire, she described Wright's death as a "devastating event" and described Potter's role in the shooting as "a mistake." In court, she did pledge she could be an unbiased juror.
Defense attorney Paul Engh pointed to the woman's social media presence and characterized them as "unfair to the police [and] being celebratory about convictions of police."
The woman disagreed, saying her posts reference specific cases, and "I don't think it's ever been generalized to the entire police system."
Members of the Wright family were in the courtroom Thursday. Daunte Wright's mother, Katie, told a reporter outside the courtroom, "Jury selection is going great."
Five jurors were seated Wednesday after four were chosen Tuesday, the initial day of selection. Jurors are not visible on the livestream of the trial, and their identities are secret for now.
Heading into Thursday: Five of the jurors are women, while four are men. Six are white, two are Asian and one is Black. Four are in their 20s, two are in their 40s, two are in their 60s and one is in their 30s.
Thursday's selection process began with a schoolteacher who said he works in "a very urban setting" and "when I see the victim, the victim looks like a lot of my students that I teach. It's really hard to separate that. ... I don't know that I would be the best pick."
After brief questioning by prosecutor Matthew Frank, the attorneys and Chu agreed that this jury candidate would be dismissed.
The next juror also was excused by the bench, over the prosecution's objection, because she has a family trip that she said would be difficult for her to reschedule and she would have difficulty focusing on the trial.
A third potential juror, a Somali man who described English as a secondary language, acknowledged he would struggle with legal terms and initially said he would otherwise be able to communicate should he be chosen.
However, Chu excused the man after he agreed with her that he might not have sufficient proficiency in English overall to serve effectively.
In the afternoon, another potential juror was excused by the defense with a peremptory strike. The woman, a criminal justice major in college, said she believes there are times when police act unprofessionally.
She pointed to an incident her cousin had with a friend when the two of them were in a vehicle and "mooning" someone who turned out to be a police officer.
The officer called for backup support, the woman said, creating "a large police there for a dumb prank."
She also acknowledged that she said in the questionnaire that she would have a difficult time overlooking a defendant exercising the right not to testify.
"This would be hard," she said in court. "I would wonder what she would be hiding." She then said her answer on the questionnaire was wrong.
The next juror was excused after she said her friend had a negative interaction with Potter when she was "interrogated" following a hit-and run-crash, and that her uncle was killed by police. She said she would not be able to be impartial.
"Police have murdered my uncle and they just haven't treated my family right," she said. "It's very hard to put that aside."
After questioning the final prospective juror Wednesday, the prosecution used the last of its three peremptory strikes. The moves allow lawyers to dismiss jurors without providing a reason. Now, if prosecutors want to keep a prospective juror off the panel, they must give the court an acceptable reason. The defense started jury selection with five peremptory strikes and has three remaining.
Opening statements are scheduled for Dec. 8. Given the speed of the jury selection, Chu floated the idea of starting sooner, but no decision was made.
Potter, 49, sat at the defense table both days between her lawyers, Earl Gray and Paul Engh. Like everyone else in the courtroom, the three wore masks when not speaking.
In a somewhat unusual revelation at this stage of the trial, the defense already has told some jurors that Potter will take the stand in her defense.
Outside the presence of jurors before selection started Wednesday, Potter confirmed her intent with Chu. "Do you understand it is totally your decision as to whether or not you testify?" the judge asked.
"Yes, I do, Your Honor," Potter responded.
Potter fired a single shot at Wright, 20, during a traffic stop April 11 after he slipped away from an officer and tried to get back into the driver's seat of his car, according to body camera footage.
She yelled, "Taser, Taser, Taser" at Wright and later said she mistakenly grabbed her gun instead of the Taser.