OPINION | The opinions expressed in this article are that of the writer and may not necessarily reflect those of Tatum Report LLC
A jury has found former Brooklyn Center (MN) police officer Kim Potter guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of Daunte Wright, whom, evidence showed, Potter accidentally shot while he was resisting arrest.
Another thing that jury did was obliterate reasonable doubt. A few days ago, I knew there was trouble when the jury asked to handle Potter’s gun, likely to compare it with her Taser. The two weapons, admittedly, have a very different look and feel. But they are both handheld and are fired essentially the same way.
I do not know what went on in the jury room. Did some jurors bully other jurors into changing their minds about an abundance of reasonable doubt? Did some jurors believe that, because the gun and Taser appear so different (in the comfort of a friendly, calm jury room with no one resisting arrest), no reasonable officer could have mistaken one for the other?
In the calm of a jury room, no officer would. But I know officers who specifically refused to carry a Taser because they didn’t want the possibility of confusion and/or felt it encouraged officers to deploy their Tasers when they should use their firearms. It should also be noted Potter attempted to use a less-than-lethal option when evidence showed lethal would have been warranted.
Cops are still human and will make mistakes. Can you imagine risking your life, doing your job in good faith, making an honest mistake, and going to prison for it? After honorable service for over two decades, Kim Potter doesn’t have to imagine it.
This jury had the benefit of video footage that told the entire story, which screamed the officer had made a tragic mistake. It also shouted plenty of reasonable doubt existed.
On the video, Potter yelled, “Taser, Taser, Taser,” before mistakenly shooting Wright with her firearm. Why did she yell those words? Because she was trained to. Not to warn Wright but to warn her fellow officers. I’ve been in that position. An officer doesn’t want to be holding onto a suspect when they get tased.
That she did give that clear warning lends overwhelming credence to her having made a mistake. And it certainly lends credence to a reasonable doubt she’d committed any crime and was attempting to do her job in good faith.
More reasonable doubt existed in her behavior immediately after she shot Wright. “Oh, S**t! I shot him,” she screams. Then she falls to the ground in obvious shock and confusion. These are all the hallmarks of an honest mistake.
Otherwise, to arrive at a guilty verdict for manslaughter (the language of the statutes doesn’t describe what happened here), wouldn’t a juror have to believe Potter knew she’d pulled her gun and not her Taser? And that she knowingly made the “Taser…” announcement as a ruse, so she could intentionally shoot Wright? Why? Because she’s a “racist?” Jurors would also have to believe she’d put her sergeant, who was in the line of fire, at risk just to shoot Wright on purpose?
This verdict makes no sense. Not because I’m a retired cop, and she’s a former cop. But because it makes no sense on an intellectual level. The jury’s standard was how a “reasonable police officer” would act. I’d be interested to see how a “reasonable jury” would adjudicate this case.
Another thing that told me I was right was not needing more than the video evidence to convince me Potter made a terrible mistake. I never wavered or vacillated. I didn’t need experts pointing out things I hadn’t considered. I didn’t need to extrapolate from one fact to connect it to another fact. I didn’t need to see things from different angles, as sometimes, even video doesn’t tell the actual story. What happened, in this case, was self-evident.
Perhaps, Ms. Potter will be better served on appeal. Or do we have to live with a new standard that police officers are the only human beings in American society who are not allowed to make honest mistakes?
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