The jury in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Kim Potter struggled to reach an agreement Tuesday on the verdicts after 12 hours of deliberations, then broke for the day at 6 p.m.
Earlier, the jurors asked Judge Regina Chu what they should do if they couldn’t reach a verdict and how long they should continue, causing Chu to reread the jurors their instructions to “Discuss the case with one another and deliberate with a view toward reaching agreement if you can do so without violating your individual judgment.”
Potter’s attorneys objected to Chu rereading the jury instructions, saying it inappropriately emphasized that specific paragraph over the rest of their instructions. Chu overruled the objection.
The jurors also asked Chu if they were allowed to remove the zip ties from an evidence box containing Potter’s gun so they could hold it. The defense objected but she overruled the defense again and gave them permission.
The jury was several hours into their second day of deliberations before asking the judge about what to do if they fail to reach a consensus. They deliberated for five hours Monday before being dismissed.
They are being sequestered in an undisclosed hotel until they reach a verdict or the judge determines they’re unable to.
Potter, 49, is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter. Potter says she meant to grab her Taser but mistakenly grabbed her gun and fatally shot Wright during a traffic stop.
Chu explained to jurors what the prosecution must have proved in the trial without reasonable doubt in order to convict Potter. She also told the jury the intent is not included in the charges and the state doesn’t have to prove Potter tried to kill Wright.
For the charge of first-degree manslaughter, prosecutors must prove that Potter committed a crime when recklessly handling her firearm that resulted in Wright’s death. They must prove she acted consciously or intentionally with her gun to create a substantial or unjustifiable risk that she was aware of and disregarded plus endangered the safety of others.
In the charge of second-degree manslaughter, prosecutors have to prove she consciously acted with “culpable negligence,” meaning she acted recklessly and put another person at risk of death or injury.
If Potter is found guilty, the state guidelines allow her to face up to seven years in prison. However, prosecutors say they will try to get more jail time.
The jury went to deliberations following closing arguments in which prosecutors accused Kim Potter of a “blunder of epic proportions” in Wright’s death in an April 11 traffic stop—but said a mistake was no defense.
Potter’s attorneys countered that Wright, who was attempting to get away from officers as they sought to handcuff him for an outstanding warrant on a weapons charge, “caused the whole incident.”
The jury got the case after about a week and a half of testimony about an arrest that went awry, setting off angry protests in Brooklyn Center just as nearby Minneapolis was on edge over Derek Chauvin‘s trial in George Floyd‘s death. Potter resigned two days after Wright’s death.
Prosecutor Erin Eldridge called Wright’s death “entirely preventable. Totally avoidable.” She urged the jury not to excuse it as a mistake: “Accidents can still be crimes if they occur as a result of reckless or culpable negligence.”
“She drew a deadly weapon,” Eldridge said. “She aimed it. She pointed it at Daunte Wright‘s chest, and she fired.”
Potter’s attorney Earl Gray argued that Wright was to blame for trying to flee from police. Potter mistakenly grabbed her gun instead of her Taser because the traffic stop “was chaos,” he said.
“Daunte Wright caused his own death, unfortunately,” he said. He also argued that shooting Wright wasn’t a crime.
“In the walk of life, nobody’s perfect. Everybody makes mistakes,” Gray said. “My gosh, a mistake is not a crime. It just isn’t in our freedom-loving country.”
Potter testified Friday that she “didn’t want to hurt anybody” and that she was “sorry it happened.”
Eldridge said the case wasn’t about whether Potter was sorry.
“Of course she feels bad about what she did. … But that has no place in your deliberations,” she said.
Playing Potter’s body camera video frame by frame, Eldridge sought to raise doubts about Potter’s testimony that she fired after seeing “fear” on the face of another officer, then-Sgt. Mychal Johnson, who was leaning into the car’s passenger-side door and trying to handcuff Wright.
The defense has argued that Johnson was at risk of being dragged and that Potter would have been justified in using deadly force. But Eldridge pointed out that for much of the interaction Potter was behind a third officer, whom she was training, and that Johnson didn’t come into her camera’s view until after the shot was fired—and then it showed the top of his head as he backed away.
“Sgt. Johnson was clearly not afraid of being dragged,” Eldridge said. “He never said he was scared. He didn’t say it then, and he didn’t testify to it in court.”
Eldridge also noted that Potter put other people at risk when she fired her gun, highlighting that the third officer was so close to the shooting that a cartridge casing bounced off his face.
“Members of the jury, safe handling of a firearm does not include firing it into a car with four people directly in harm’s way,” she said.
Gray started his closing argument by attacking Eldridge’s summation, highlighting how she had played slowed-down depictions of events that Potter saw in real time.
“Playing the video not at the right speed where it showed chaos, playing it as slow as possible … that’s the rabbit hole of misdirection,” Gray said. He also noted that Potter’s body camera was mounted on her chest and gave a slightly different perspective than her own vision.
Update 12/21/21, 7:21 p.m. ET: This article was updated with new information to reflect the jury breaking for the day.
The Associated Press contributed to this report