Former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter was sentenced to two years in prison Friday, a significant downward departure from the presumptive sentence.
“Her conduct cries out for a sentence significantly below the guidelines,” said Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu.
Potter was found guilty of first-degree and second-degree manslaughter in December for fatally shooting Daunte Wright during an April 11 traffic stop. She accidentally grabbed her gun instead of her Taser.
“This is just profound. This too is unheard of,” one of Potter’s attorneys, Paul Engh, said in court Friday, holding up a thick stack of letters in support of Potter.
Potter was allowed to read a statement and repeatedly apologized to Wright’s family while holding back tears.
“Katie, I understand a mother’s love and I’m sorry I broke your heart,” Potter said, speaking to Wright’s mother. “I am so sorry that I hurt you so badly. My heart is broken and devastated for all of you.”
Judge Chu began her remarks by describing the case as “one of the saddest” she’s worked on during her 20-year career.
Chu said she received “hundreds and hundreds of letters” in support of Potter, in addition to the letters that were provided by the defense.
“They paint a portrait of a woman who touched a lot of people in a good way,” Chu said.
Chu explained that incarceration serves four purposes: retribution, incapacitation, deterrence, and rehabilitation.
“Three of the four would not be served in this case,” Chu said.
The presumptive sentence in Potter’s case was 6 years on the low end and up to 8½ years on the high end.
“Put another way, if the conduct is significantly less serious than that typically involved in the commission of the crime, sentencing below the guidelines is justified,” Chu explained. “I find the facts and circumstances here justify a downward departure from the guidelines.”
She said Potter’s conduct was “significantly less serious” than the typical manslaughter case.
“The fact that she never intended to draw her firearm makes this case less serious than other cases,” Chu said. “Officer Potter was required to make a split-second judgment. That constitutes a mitigating circumstance.”
The fact that Potter’s actions weren’t driven by “personal animosity” also differentiated her case from typical manslaughter cases, Chu continued.
“This case is highly unusual,” the judge said. “This is a cop who made a tragic mistake.”
Chu ultimately sentenced Potter to two years in prison. Potter is required to serve two-thirds, or 16 months, behind bars and the rest on parole. She was credited for 58 days already served.
“I recognize there will be those who disagree with the sentence. That I granted a significant downward departure does not in any way diminish Daunte Wright’s life. His life mattered,” Chu said.
She concluded her remarks by quoting former President Barack Obama, urging critics to “try to empathize with Ms. Potter’s situation.”
“Officer Kimberly Potter was trying to do the right thing,” said Chu. “Of all the jobs in public service, police officers have the most difficult one.”
Frank Roth, a retired police officer and close friend of Potter, described the sentence as “bittersweet.”
“I’m sad that Kim has to serve any time in prison for a tragic mistake, not a crime. Daunte should be alive, but mistakes were made on both sides in this tragic event,” he told Alpha News.
Roth said Judge Chu presented a compelling case for granting Potter probation but believes she couldn’t “choose that path because of the political climate.”
He described all of the supportive letters as “unprecedented in a criminal case for a defendant.”
“I do feel better for Kim that at least she knows her sentence and can continue to heal,” Roth added. “Kim truly is a special person.”