Former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter will stand trial on first- and second-degree manslaughter charges in the death of Daunte Wright, a Hennepin County judge ruled Wednesday, denying a defense request to dismiss the more serious charge that was added in September.
Judge Regina Chu also made evidentiary rulings regarding testimony about Wright's criminal history. The trial is set to begin Nov. 30.
Potter shot and killed Wright during a traffic stop April 11 while attempting to arrest him. Prosecutors and the defense agree the 26-year veteran didn't intent to kill Wright, the judge wrote.
The state initially charged Potter with second-degree manslaughter, which requires a finding that she acted with "culpable negligence" in Wright's death. The defense was seeking to dismiss the more recent first-degree manslaughter charge, defined as "recklessly" causing Wright's death.
Potter was training officer Anthony Luckey when he pulled over Wright just before 2 p.m. April 11. Luckey told Wright he was stopped for an air freshener hanging from his rearview mirror and expired tabs. When Luckey ran a records check, he found an active arrest warrant for a gross misdemeanor weapons violation against Wright, Chu wrote.
According to body camera video, Luckey tried to arrest and put handcuffs on him, Wright spun away and got back in the car. Within seconds, Potter said, "I'll tase ya." But she drew her Glock 9mm handgun with her right hand and fired a single fatal shot at Wright. He gasped, "Ah, he shot me!" before the car accelerated and crashed into a tree.
Realizing her mistake, she sobbed hysterically and said "oh my God" at least 59 times, along with "I'm going to prison." She also stated she had grabbed the wrong gun, Chu's ruling said.
For a conviction on the first-degree charge, a jury would have to find Potter was aware of the risk of killing Wright and "made a conscious decision to act without regard" to the risk, Chu wrote.
In allowing the charge to remain, Chu said she only had to view the evidence in the light most favorable to the prosecution and make a finding of "probable cause," meaning it was more probable than not that a crime was committed. She noted that at trial the state will have a much higher burden of proving the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.
Chu found enough circumstantial evidence to support the charge going to trial.
The judge's ruling noted that Potter had drawn the Glock from the right side of her belt when her Taser was on the left side. Chu said Potter had "disregarded" her training and experience.
On the evidentiary matters, Chu ruled that Wright's criminal record and allegations, including that he shot someone in the head, was a member of a street gang, assaulted and robbed a man in March and was subject to restraining orders, may only be admissible if Potter was aware of any prior conduct of Wright.
If Potter was aware of Wright's previous conduct, it's "admissible and relevant to explain her actions and approach toward Wright," Chu wrote.
Wright's death prompted days of unrest in Brooklyn Center. Prosecutors sought to exclude evidence of witnesses having attended those demonstrations. Chu denied the request, saying, "Such evidence is admissible to show bias."
A spokesman for Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office is prosecuting the case, did not respond to a request for comment. Defense attorney Earl Gray declined to comment.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747