A Minnesota jury has found former police officer Kimberly Potter guilty of manslaughter in the fatal shooting of black motorist Daunte Wright during a traffic stop at which she mistakenly discharged her handgun instead of her Taser.
A 12-member jury on Thursday found Potter, 49, guilty of first degree and second degree manslaughter in the death of 20-year-old Wright, who she killed in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center on April 11 with a bullet to the chest.
Potter, who broke down last week on the stand as she testified to her remorse for the shooting, showed little emotion as Judge Regina Chu read the verdict and polled the jury. Potter was taken away in handcuffs after Chu rejected her lawyer's plea for her to be allowed to spend Christmas with family.
"I am going to require that she be taken into custody and held without bail," Chu said.
"I cannot treat this case any differently than any other case."
The shooting sparked multiple nights of intense demonstrators in Brooklyn Center. It happened just a few kilometres north of where Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was at the same time standing trial for killing George Floyd, a black man whose 2020 death during an arrest had set off protests in US cities over racism and police brutality.
Chauvin was convicted of murder. Both he and Potter are white.
Caught on Potter's body-worn camera, the basic facts of the incident were for the most part not in dispute. Both prosecutors and the defence lawyers agreed that Potter mistakenly drew the wrong weapon and never meant to kill Wright.
At issue was whether the jury would find her actions to be reckless in violation of the state's manslaughter statutes, or chalk up the incident to a tragic mistake that did not warrant criminal liability.
Throughout the trial, prosecutors stressed Potter's 26 years as a police officer, a level of experience they said made her mistake indefensible. They said she disregarded her training, which included Taser-specific courses in the months before the shooting, and took a conscious and unreasonable risk in using any weapon against the unarmed Wright.
Potter's lawyers sought to blame Wright for resisting arrest, which they argued had created a dangerous situation and justified her use of force. While acknowledging her mistake, they said her actions were not criminal because she thought she was using her Taser and was unaware she had drawn her handgun.
The defence also leaned heavily on Dr. Laurence Miller, a psychologist who testified about "action error," or when a person takes one action while intending to do another. Miller said such mistakes were common and can be triggered by stress.
Potter's lawyers also took a chance by putting her on the stand. Potter testified that she was deeply sorry for killing Wright and outlined an otherwise clean record as a police officer. She said she had never discharged her gun before.
To secure a conviction on the first degree manslaughter charge, prosecutors were required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Potter caused Wright's death while committing the misdemeanour offence of recklessly using a firearm, according to Minnesota law.
For second degree manslaughter, the jury was required to find Potter was guilty of "culpable negligence," meaning she created an "unreasonable risk and consciously" took a chance of causing Wright death or serious bodily harm.
The jury agreed to find Potter guilty on the second degree charge on Tuesday morning, and decided on the first degree charge on Thursday morning, Chu told the court.