Four jurors were selected Tuesday on the first day of trial for former Brooklyn Center police officer Kimberly Potter, who will testify about fatally shooting Daunte Wright during a traffic stop.
Eleven prospective jurors were questioned; most were dismissed by Hennepin County District Judge Regina Chu for cause because they couldn't remain unbiased, had safety concerns about serving on the jury or are attending college, among other reasons.
The jurors are a white man in his 50s, a white woman in her 60s, a white man in his 20s and an Asian woman in her 40s, according to the Hennepin County District Court.
One of Potter's attorneys, Paul Engh, revealed that Potter would testify during the trial while he was questioning the juror in her 60s. Potter's defense has said she mistook her handgun for her Taser when she shot Wright as he broke free of an officer trying to handcuff him, jumped into his car and attempted to flee.
"When I first heard about this, my reaction was, 'How could this happen?' and that's kind of where I'm still at," said the woman, who retired from teaching special education in the northwest suburbs. "I know [police] have a dangerous job, but I don't know — I just think they are supposed to be able to handle themselves."
"You would agree the situation was frenetic?" Engh asked. "People had to make decisions quickly?"
Yes, the woman said.
"We have something here to say, too ...," Engh said. "Wait for her," he said, referring to when Potter takes the witness stand.
Assistant Minnesota Attorney General Matthew Frank attempted to counter Engh's assertion to the juror that Potter's interaction with Wright lasted 12 seconds.
"You understand that is just one position on this?" Frank asked the woman.
"I really feel for any law enforcement because things can happen so quickly," she said.
"The circumstances involved in this case will go well beyond those 12 seconds," Frank said, adding that Potter's training will come into play.
Potter, 49, is charged with one count each of first- and second-degree manslaughter for firing a single shot at Wright, 20, on April 11. Her attorneys, Engh and Earl Gray, plan to call a psychologist who will testify about "slip and capture errors" where a dominant behavior overrides a less dominant one.
The Minnesota Attorney General's Office and Hennepin County Attorney's Office have argued that Potter was trained to recognize the difference between the two weapons and acted negligently.
Police body camera footage captured the moment, showing Potter firing her handgun at Wright as she yelled, "Taser! Taser! Taser!" Wright was stopped for expired tabs, and police discovered there was a warrant for his arrest on a gross misdemeanor weapons charge.
The court summoned 453 prospective jurors — 127 more than the number summoned for the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was tried and convicted this past April for murdering George Floyd in 2020. A jury of 14, two of them alternates, will be seated in Potter's trial.
Of the entire jury pool questioned Tuesday, seven said they had either a "very negative" or "somewhat negative" impression of Potter. One person said they had a "somewhat positive" impression of her; the rest were neutral or were not asked the question. Most said they could set aside what they had learned about the case and decide it based on the evidence presented in court.
The first juror chosen, the man in his 50s, said he disagreed with the movement to defund police departments. "I believe there is a need for a change, but I think defund sends a negative message," he said. "I think it sends an emotionally loaded message, rather than we need reform — let's just abolish."
At the same time, said the man, an editor for a medical association, the Blue Lives Matter movement "is less in support of the police; rather that it is a counter-cry against Black Lives Matter."
After the retired teacher was questioned and seated, a man in his 20s who works in distribution for Target was selected as the third juror.
"I am slightly distrustful of cops," he wrote in his juror questionnaire. "I believe they have an incredibly hard job, but I believe they should be held to the highest level of scrutiny."
Under questioning, the man, whose cousin is a former police officer, acknowledged that it felt "childish" to distrust the police, and that, "I know if I do need help [from the police], I'm going to ask for it."
The fourth juror chosen was the woman in her 40s who described herself as a "rule follower" who could decide the case based solely on the evidence. She told the court that her friend was fatally stabbed in Minneapolis and the suspect was convicted.
Frank noted that on her questionnaire she marked "somewhat agree" to the statement that police have dangerous jobs and should not be second-guessed.
"I think sometimes you just react, and sometimes it might be a wrong reaction," she said. "Mistakes happen."
"Sometimes the mistakes are bigger than other mistakes?" Frank asked.
Yes, the woman answered.
Prosecutors used one of their three peremptory challenges to strike a retired Minneapolis fire captain from the jury. Frank pushed him about his feelings toward police given how closely police and fire work together.
The man, whose nephew is a police officer in St. Cloud, could not recall any troubling interactions with police in his 31 years with the Fire Department. "Everybody does their own job," he said, adding that he didn't have personal friendships with local officers.
Frank noted that on the man's questionnaire he said he had a "somewhat unfavorable" opinion of Black Lives Matter and wrote that it should do more to combat "inner city gun crime."
"They could probably work harder on that area, yes," the man said.
The defense used one of its five peremptory challenges to strike the last prospective juror questioned — a woman who twice visited the scene were Floyd died and who participated in one march protesting his killing. She told the court that she studied public health and has a "pretty good understanding" of how racial disparity and systemic racism operates.
The woman said she felt "somewhat negative" about Potter and that Blue Lives Matter was not about police, but rather, a "calling card" for "white supremacy."
"I felt and still feel that officer Potter's actions were careless ... and that I felt ... more on edge about police behavior and my own behavior in regards to the conversations we were having as a culture," she said.
Jury selection resumes at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Opening statements are scheduled for Dec. 8, with the trial projected to wrap up in the last week of December.