Kim Potter Could 'Easily' Be Charged With Third-Degree Murder in Daunte Wright's Death: Legal Expert

A legal expert said Wednesday that the ex-police officer who allegedly shot and killed a 20-year-old Black man in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, could have easily been charged with third-degree murder, which carries a 25-year maximum sentence compared with the 10-year maximum for the manslaughter charges the accused currently faces.

Rachel Moran, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas, told a CBS affiliate in Minnesota that the charges against Kim Potter are concessions, validating calls by Black community leaders and the family of the slain man, Daunte Wright. Potter was charged with second-degree manslaughter for killing Wright during a traffic stop, which Potter claims was an accident.

"This is kind of the compromise charge, which isn't to say it's not serious. It is," Moran said. "But they're not reaching for the most serious charge they could theoretically file. They're also not washing their hands and saying she has no criminal liability."

Potter has maintained that she accidentally fired on Wright after mistaking her handgun for a Taser, Brooklyn Center's police chief, who later resigned, said Monday. The Wright family and protesters who have occupied Brooklyn Center Police Station this week are calling for more serious charges for the shooting, for which they say there is no excuse.

An officer mistaking a handgun for a Taser is rare, occurring less than once a year, according to a 2012 article from the monthly law journal of Americans for Effective Law Enforcement. The article documented just nine cases of officers confusing their handguns for stun guns dating back to 2001.

Brooklyn Center
Members of Daunte Wright's family visit a memorial site near the place he was killed on April 14, in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. A legal expert said that Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter, who was charged in the killing of Wright, could easily see her charges upgraded from second-degree manslaughter to third-degree murder. Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Advocates for Wright point to the 2017 case of Mohamed Noor. The Black former Minneapolis police officer fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a white woman who was dual citizen of the U.S. and Australia, in the alley behind her home after she called 911 to report what she thought was a woman being assaulted.

Noor was convicted of third-degree murder in addition to second-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 12 1/2 years in prison. Potter's charge carries a maximum 10-year prison sentence.

Noor testified that he fired to protect his partner's life after hearing a loud bang on the squad car and seeing a woman at his partner's window raising her arm. Prosecutors criticized Noor for shooting without seeing a weapon or Damond's hands.

Potter's attorney has not spoken publicly or returned messages from The Associated Press about the shooting of Wright and the criminal case. Potter was released from the Hennepin County Jail late Wednesday on $100,000 bond.

Many critics of the police believe the race of those involved played a role in which charges were brought.

"If the officer was Black, perhaps even a minority man, and the victim was a young, white female affluent kid, the chief would have fired him immediately and the county prosecutor would have charged him with murder, without a doubt," said Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Washington County Attorney Pete Orput did not return messages Thursday seeking comment.

Wright's death came as the broader Minneapolis area nervously awaits the outcome of the trial for Derek Chauvin, one of four officers charged in George Floyd's death. Ben Crump, the civil rights attorney who is representing the family of Wright, pointed to that trial as having the potential to set a precedent for "police officers being held accountable and sent to prison for killing Black people."

Police say Wright was pulled over for expired tags on Sunday, but they sought to arrest him after discovering he had an outstanding warrant. The warrant was for his failure to appear in court on charges that he fled from officers and possessed a gun without a permit during an encounter with Minneapolis police in June.

Potter, a 26-year veteran, was training another officer at the time.

Body camera video shows Wright struggling with police after they say they're going to arrest him, before Potter pulls her gun. Potter is heard yelling "Taser!" three times before she fires and then says, "Holy [expletive], I shot him."

"This was no accident," Crump said after charges were announced. "This was an intentional, deliberate, and unlawful use of force."

Protesters who have clashed with police since Sunday's shooting have also drawn comparisons to the Noor case in arguing that white police officers receive preferential treatment in a system biased against Black people.

Intent isn't a necessary component of second-degree manslaughter in Minnesota. The charge can be applied in circumstances where a person is suspected of causing a death by "culpable negligence" that creates an unreasonable risk and consciously takes chances to cause a death.

The criminal complaint noted that Potter holstered her handgun on the right side and her Taser on the left. To remove the Taser—which is yellow and has a black grip—Potter would have to use her left hand, the complaint said.

Hours after the charge was announced Wednesday, demonstrators clashed with police stationed behind a chain-link fence protecting the city's police station. It was the fourth straight night of protests and unrest, with several hundred people filling the street in front of the station despite a mix of snow and rain, chanting, "Say his name! Daunte Wright!"

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