MINNEAPOLIS (AFP) - A former US police officer who shot dead a young African-American man after mistaking her gun for her Taser was sentenced to two years in prison on Friday (Feb 18) after an emotional court hearing.
Kim Potter, 49, was convicted in December of first- and second-degree manslaughter for shooting Daunte Wright in the chest during a traffic stop in Brooklyn Centre, a Minneapolis suburb, in April 2021.
Judge Regina Chu rejected the prosecution's request that Potter be given seven years in prison and sentenced her to two years, of which the former officer will have to serve at least 16 months.
"This is one of the saddest cases I've had in my 20 years on the bench," Chu said.
"On the one hand, a young man was killed and on the other a respected 26-year veteran police officer made a tragic error by pulling her handgun instead of her Taser.
"I recognise there will be those who disagree with the sentence," the judge said.
"There is no question that Ms Potter is extremely remorseful.
"Officer Potter made a mistake that ended tragically. She never intended to hurt anyone. Her conduct cries out for a sentence significantly below the guidelines," Chu said, wiping away tears.
Chu's sentencing came after Wright's mother, Katie Wright, other members of the Wright family, and Potter herself addressed the court.
"I'll never be able to forgive you for what you've stolen from us," Katie Wright said, addressing Potter.
"She took our baby boy with a single gunshot through the heart. She shattered mine.
"He had so much life ahead of him," she added of her son, who was 20 years old when he died and the father of a baby boy.
"You took his future, what he could have been."
A sobbing Potter told the Wright family she was sorry.
"I understand a mother's love and I am sorry I broke your heart," she told Daunte Wright's mother. "I am so sorry that I hurt you so badly."
'Murdered him all over again'
The shooting of Wright, whose father is Black and whose mother is white, came during the trial of Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer who was convicted of the murder of George Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man.
Chauvin, who kneeled on the neck of a handcuffed Floyd for nearly 10 minutes until he passed out and died, is serving 22 years in prison for the murder.
Floyd's death was filmed by a bystander and sparked months of protests in the United States against racial injustice and police brutality. Wright's death triggered several nights of protests and unrest in Brooklyn Center before Potter's arrest calmed tensions.
Wright's parents addressed reporters after the sentencing and expressed disappointment with the outcome.
"Kim Potter murdered my son," Katie Wright said. "Today, the justice system murdered him all over again."
Arbuey Wright, Daunte Wright's father, said "I feel cheated. I feel hurt. I'm very upset."
Prosecutor Matthew Frank, who also prosecuted the Floyd murder case, had asked the judge to impose a sentence that was "an acknowledgment that police officers are subject to the law like everybody else."
"Remorse alone is not enough," Frank said. "We should expect defendants to have remorse."
Potter and other officers had stopped Wright's car on April 11, 2021, for a minor traffic violation.
After realising that Wright was the subject of an arrest warrant, the police officers decided to arrest him.
Wright, who was unarmed, resisted being handcuffed and restarted his car to try to flee. Potter then drew what she said she thought was her Taser.
On a body-camera recording of the scene, Potter can be heard shouting "Taser" several times, before shooting and fatally wounding Wright.