Kim Potter, a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center Police Department, will be charged with second-degree manslaughter in connection with Wright’s death, Washington County Attorney Pete Orput announced. Wright, who is Black, died of a gunshot wound to the chest, according the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office, which classified the manner of death as a homicide.
Second degree manslaughter is one step below third-degree murder in the Minnesota system. Derek Chauvin was initially charged with both in the killing of George Floyd but his murder charge was later upgraded to second degree. There’s also another recent Minnesota police shooting in which an officer was charged with both third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter:
In April 2019, former Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter for the slaying of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a white dual citizen of the United States and Australia.
Damond called police on July 15, 2017 to report what she believed to be a sexual assault happening in her neighborhood. When she went outside to greet the responding officers, Noor said he mistook her for a “threat” and fired a fatal shot.
He was sentenced to 12 ½ years in prison.
Noor had also been charged with 2nd degree murder but was acquitted on that charge. The jail time associated with the manslaughter charge alone is significantly less than with the murder charge:
Judges have some discretion. The guidelines allow a range of nearly 11 years to 15 years for third-degree murder and less than 3 1/2 years to nearly five years for manslaughter, but the system is designed to result in close to the recommended sentence most of the time.
Unlike first-degree manslaughter, which covers crimes of passion or incidents where someone is intentionally attacked but without the intent to kill, second-degree manslaughter does not require intent but can be the result of consciously taking an unreasonable risk that leads to the death of another person. According to FindLaw, this is Minnesota’s version of involuntary manslaughter.
My own take, and that’s all it is, is that involuntary manslaughter is the right charge here. The video of the traffic stop shows Potter intended to tase Wright, which I’m guessing was justifiable once he tried to flee the arrest. She mentioned the taser 4-5 times before the shooting then reacted in surprise afterwards. Nevertheless, she’s a police officer with 20+ years of experience. This may have been a mistake but at the end of the day that mistake took a man’s life. That sounds like involuntary manslaughter. We’ll see what the jury has to say about it in a few months.