Potter, who is White, was found guilty Thursday of first- and second-degree manslaughter in her killing of Wright when she said she mistakenly shot the 20-year-old Black man with a gun instead of a Taser. Potter, 49, had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
During a police stop on April 11 in Brooklyn Center, near Minneapolis, officers learned Wright had an outstanding warrant and tried to arrest him. As Wright tried to flee the scene, Potter yelled, “Taser, Taser” and instead pulled out her gun and fatally shot him.
The case unfolded at a time when the American justice system is under scrutiny over the legal disciplinary measures police officers face when they use force –whether deadly or otherwise — against people of color, particularly Black Americans.
The 12-member jury in Potter’s case deliberated for about 27 hours since Monday before reaching the guilty verdict — which surprised two legal experts who said they either expected a hung jury or mistrial altogether.
“Three to five years ago, this would be a full acquittal, not even a concern over a mistrial. So the fact that we are now seeing more accountability for officers — the idea they are not above the law, that if they do the crime, they do the time,” criminal defense attorney Sara Azari said Thursday after the conviction. “It’s definitely not systemic change, but it is definitely a change in trend. And this is not something that would have happened earlier.”
Potter’s defense argued at trial that her actions did not rise to the level of a crime and that the use of the Taser was reasonable. Defense attorney Earl Gray argued that Potter had the right to use deadly force — claiming her actions shouldn’t be considered reckless because she “didn’t know she had a gun.”
Meanwhile, the prosecution argued Potter’s fatal error was due to recklessness and negligence. Minnesota Assistant Attorney General Erin Eldridge told jurors in closing arguments that there would be no case if Potter “followed her training … paid attention … and considered the risk,” before shooting Wright.
“Accidents can still be crimes if they occur because of recklessness or culpable negligence. … It’s not a defense to the crimes charged,” the prosecutor said. “I think the prosecution did a good job of separating out her behavior, her remorse, and saying we have to hold people responsible when they do something tragic when it’s so unbelievably negligent,” CNN legal analyst and defense attorney Mark O’Mara said.
O’Mara echoed Azari’s take on the conviction, saying in part, “We are finally in the days of Floyd,” referring to George Floyd, a Black man whose murder by a White Minneapolis police officer in May 2020 sparked national and global protests against police brutality.
“We are without question holding cops more responsible for their actions. They do not get a free pass,” O’Mara told CNN’s John Berman on Thursday, adding that Potter’s reaction seems to stem from “implicit bias.”
“We now need to truly train cops and law enforcement how to rethink their perspective of young Black males,” he said.
This article originally appeared in CNN.