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Jury selection begins tomorrow for trial of Kimberly Potter, who shot Daunte Wright

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Jury selection begins tomorrow in the trial of a Minnesota police officer who shot and killed an unarmed Black man during a traffic stop in April. Former officer Kimberly Potter's defense team is expected to argue she mistakenly reached for and used her handgun instead of her Taser as she tried to apprehend 20-year-old Daunte Wright. Nina Moini of Minnesota Public Radio reports.

NINA MOINI, BYLINE: Body camera footage released the day after the killing shows that Kimberly Potter, a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Center police force, yelled Taser three times while trying to apprehend Daunte Wright from inside his vehicle. But instead, Potter drew her gun and shot Wright to death.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Unintelligible).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Yes.

MOINI: On the video, officers can be heard informing Wright he has a warrant out for his arrest. It was for missing a court date related to a gross misdemeanor weapons charge. That charge was discovered after he was pulled over. Wright's family members say the 20-year-old father was with his girlfriend on his way to get a car wash. His mother, Katie Wright, says her son called her from the traffic stop, asking for his insurance information. But then the phone disconnected. She says he told her he'd been pulled over because of air fresheners hanging from his rearview mirror, a minor violation of a Minnesota law, though police later said Wright was stopped for driving with expired license plate tags.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KATIE WRIGHT: And then when I called back, the girl that he had in the car answered the phone. And it was on a FaceTime. And she said - she was crying and screaming, and she said that they shot him. And then she pointed the phone towards the driver's seat, and my son was laying there, unresponsive.

MOINI: News that Potter, a 49-year-old white police officer, had killed Black resident Daunte Wright spurred protests outside of Brooklyn Center police headquarters for several nights. The trial of Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murdering George Floyd, was underway at the time in neighboring Minneapolis. Attorney Jeff Storms represented members of the Floyd family and is now part of the legal team for the Wright family.

JEFF STORMS: I think the national conversation has sort of been, you know, is there a chance a jury decides that this was just a mere accident?

MOINI: Issues around race, policing and implicit bias are certainly part of the ongoing national conversation these days. But Georgetown Law professor Angi Porter says race may not be a key focus in this case. Potter has pleaded not guilty to first- and second-degree manslaughter charges. Angi Porter says the prosecution has to prove that Potter acted recklessly and is culpably negligent, that the former officer wasn't making an innocent mistake by using her handgun instead of her Taser.

ANGI PORTER: And they're going to do that by bringing in her background, her training, her expertise to introduce this idea that there is a should in the background - should not have. This should not have happened.

MOINI: Assistant Attorney General Matthew Frank, who also prosecuted Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, is expected to argue that Potter had proper Taser training. The prosecution also plans to introduce evidence from four incidents where Kimberly Potter correctly drew her Taser, including two where she activated the weapon. Angi Porter says defense lawyers might rely heavily on Kimberly Potter's body camera footage.

PORTER: She said, I'm going to go to prison. Five minutes later, she said, I killed a boy. All of this is sort of in - is consistent with being in shock and being remorseful.

MOINI: If convicted of the most serious offense, Potter could face up to 15 years in prison. Wright's family attorney, Jeff Storm, says they are still reeling from the loss of their son last April. Trial testimony and deliberations are expected to last about two weeks as jurors decide if Kimberly Potter's shooting of Daunte Wright was a criminal act or an innocent mistake.

For NPR News, I'm Nina Moini. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.