4 jurors seated for Kim Potter trial, many more needed

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Posters stand on the south lawn Tuesday, Nov. 30, 2021 at the Hennepin County Government Center in Minneapolis where jury selection begins for former suburban Minneapolis police officer Kim Potter, who says she meant to grab her Taser instead of her handgun when she shot and killed motorist Daunte Wright. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Prosecutors and defense attorneys for the suburban Minneapolis police officer charged in Daunte Wright’s death are to resume jury selection Wednesday after seating four the first day.

Kim Potter, 49, sat quietly Tuesday as attorneys and Judge Regina Chu probed potential jurors’ for what they knew about the case and about their views of protests against police brutality that had become frequent in Minneapolis, even before George Floyd’s death.

Potter’s attorneys made clear that jurors would hear directly from the former officer herself, who resigned two days after she shot and killed Wright, a Black motorist, on April 11. Potter, who is white, has said she made a mistake by grabbing her handgun instead of the Taser she meant to draw.

“Officer Potter will testify and tell you what she remembers happened, so you will know not just from the video but from the officers at the scene and Officer Potter herself what was occurring,” Paul Engh, one of her attorneys, told one potential juror.

“I think (you) should be quite interested in hearing what she had to say.”

Six days have been set aside for jury selection, with opening statements Dec. 8.

Wright was shot in Brooklyn Center in the midst of former Minneapolis Officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial in Floyd’s death, just 10 miles (16 kilometers) away. Jury selection for Potter frequently followed a similar path as at Chauvin’s trial, with potential jurors questioned about their attitudes toward Black Lives Matter, policing and protests.

Potter is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter. She shot Wright as he tried to drive away from a traffic stop. Wright’s death sparked several nights of protests in Brooklyn Center.

The jurors seated Tuesday are a medical editor, a retired special education teacher, a Target operations manager and a woman whose occupation wasn’t given. The court described the four as two white men, one in his 20s and one in his 50s; a white woman in her 60s; and an Asian woman in her 40s.

The medical editor said he has a very unfavorable view of the “blue lives matter” slogan, saying he believes it’s less about supporting police than about countering the Black Lives Matter movement.

But he also said he opposes the movement to abolish or defund the police.

“I absolutely believe there’s a need for change,” he said. “But I think defund the police sends a message, a negative message. … I don’t agree with that message and I don’t agree with the approach that was taken to defund the police.”

The Target employee, who also plays bass in a rock band, described himself as somewhat distrustful of police but said he recognized “that it’s a very hard job.”

The woman whose occupation wasn’t given described herself as a “rule follower” who said she felt police officers should be respected. She said on a questionnaire that she somewhat agreed that police officers should not be second-guessed for decisions they make on the job.

“I think sometimes you just react, and sometimes it might be a wrong reaction, but, you know, mistakes happen,” she said. “People make mistakes.”

Still, she said she would make a decision based on the evidence.

Seven jurors were dismissed, including a handful who expressed strong views of the case. One woman said on the jury questionnaire that she viewed Potter very unfavorably and that she should have known the difference between her gun and her Taser. A man expressed wonder that a seasoned officer could make such a mistake, and told defense attorneys, “I don’t know if you’d want to select me.”

One man questioned in court described Black Lives Matter as “Marxist Communist” and suggested Wright was to blame for his death: “I think if he would’ve listened to the (police) directions, he would still be with us.”

Jurors’ names were being withheld and they were not shown on the livestream of the trial. But efforts to protect their identities slipped at times, with defense attorney Earl Gray appearing to say two prospective jurors’ names aloud.

“I don’t want that to happen again,” Judge Regina Chu warned. “I know it was a mistake.”

Potter’s defense team can dismiss up to five jurors without giving a reason, compared with three for the prosecution, which is standard in Minnesota courts. Neither side needs to justify such a peremptory strike unless the other side argues it was because of a juror’s race, ethnicity or gender.

Prosecutors used one strike to eliminate a retired fire captain who said he has had good experiences working with police and has a nephew who is an officer. The defense used one on a woman who briefly worked for Keith Ellison’s campaign for attorney general; Ellison’s office is prosecuting the case.

Potter said she made an innocent mistake when she shot Wright. She and two other officers at the scene moved to arrest Wright after learning there was a warrant out for him on a gross misdemeanor charge.

As Wright tried to drive off, Potter can be heard on her body camera video saying “Taser, Taser Taser” before she fired, followed by, “I grabbed the wrong (expletive) gun.”

Prosecutors say she was an experienced officer who was trained to know better. The most serious charge she faces requires prosecutors to prove recklessness; the lesser only requires them to prove culpable negligence. Minnesota’s sentencing guidelines call for a sentence of just over seven years on the first-degree manslaughter count, and four years for second-degree. Prosecutors have said they’ll seek a longer sentence.

The jury pool comes from Hennepin County, which includes Minneapolis and is the state’s most populous county. Hennepin is 74% white, 14% Black, 7.5% Asian and 7% Latino, according to census data. Brooklyn Center is one of the most diverse cities in the state, at 46% white, 29% Black, 16% Asian and 15% Latino.

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