On Friday, February 18th, Kim Potter, the former Brooklyn Center, Minnesota police officer who was convicted of first- and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Duante Wright in December, was sentenced to two years in prison. Potter, a 26-year veteran, and a new police officer that she was training, Anthony Luckey, pulled over Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, for an infraction on April 11th, 2021. Wright had expired registration tags and had an illegal air freshener dangling on his rearview mirror. According to NPR, the situation escalated when Potter and Luckey realized that Wright was wanted for failing to appear in court for an unrelated gun charge. Body camera footage shows that Wright was cooperative at first but managed to get back into his car. It is then that he was fatally shot after Potter mistakenly used her service weapon and not her taser. Although lawyers for both the prosecution and the defense agreed that she did not intend to draw her service weapon, the jury was convinced that her mistake was reckless and negligent.
Potter’s sentence is lower than what was recommended under the sentencing guidelines for the state of Minnesota. In Minnesota, the presumptive sentence for a conviction of first-degree manslaughter for an individual who has no criminal history is 86-months. However, the judge overseeing Potter’s sentencing, Judge Regina Chu, found mitigating factors in this case. The mitigating factors that Judge Chu stated called for a lighter sentence are as follows: that Potter intended to draw her Taser instead of her gun; that “the scene was chaotic, tense and rapidly evolving,” requiring quick decision-making by Potter; and that Potter’s decisions were not driven by personal animosity toward Wright. Wright’s parents, family, and activists have denounced Judge Chu’s sentence, claiming that it is an injustice. According to civil rights attorney Nekima Levy Armstrong, Judge Chu “overstepped her bounds and undermined any legitimacy from the judicial process that happened in this case,” and that the sentence “again underscores why many Black people have a distrust of the justice system at all levels.” Following the sentencing, around 100 protestors, including Wright’s mother, gathered outside Judge Chu’s home to protest the sentence.
Potter will serve only 14-months of her two-year term due to having received credit for the 58-days that she has served. The remainder will be served on supervised release. Minnesota’s Attorney General, Keith Ellison, also announced that he has no plans to challenge Judge Chu’s decision despite disagreeing with it.
Instructors, click on the link below to download this week’s lecture for use in your classroom. The deck contains a writing prompt, a debate question, as well as other assessment questions.
- Writing: Explain why activists and Wright’s family see injustice in ex-police officer’s two-year sentence.
- Debate: According to Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, his office will not appeal Judge Regina Chu’s ruling despite having called for the presumptive sentence. Do you believe that Attorney General Ellison should reconsider his stance and appeal the ruling?
- Poll: Judge Regina Chu made the right decision in imposing the two-year sentence because the shooting was a fatal mistake. (Agree or Disagree).
- Short Answer: Discuss the factors that likely contributed to Judge Regina Chu’s decision to impose a lighter sentence on ex-police officer Kim Potter.
Cover Image: iStock.com/AndreyPopov