It’s former Officer Kim Potter who’s on trial for the killing of Daunte Wright, but the trial in the same courtroom earlier this year of ex-cop Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd is casting a shadow over the proceedings.
During jury selection last week, there was little mention of Chauvin or Floyd, whose death sparked outrage over police brutality in the U.S. The court has seemed determined at times not to bring it up.
But with opening statements set for Wednesday, reminders of the earlier case are everywhere, ranging from the presence of some of the same prosecutors who tried Chauvin to potential jurors being asked about their fears of delivering an unpopular verdict.
Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu is using the same 18th-floor courtroom where Chauvin was convicted of murder in April by a jury that repeatedly watched video of the white officer kneeling on the neck of Floyd, a Black man, and where Chauvin was later sentenced by Judge Peter Cahill to 22 1/2 years.
Video will also figure prominently in Potter's manslaughter trial. The jury will see footage showing the white officer shouting “Taser, Taser, Taser” as she aimed her Glock 9 mm semiautomatic pistol at Wright, a Black man, as he tried to drive away from a traffic stop on April 11, then fired a fatal bullet into his chest before exclaiming, “I grabbed the wrong (expletive) gun.”
Her attorneys say Wright's death was an innocent mistake, not a crime.
Though Floyd’s death was rarely mentioned directly during jury selection, his case's impact on the trial has been obvious. The jury pool got nearly the same questionnaires used for Chauvin's trial, with only slight edits in some places to fit the circumstances of the Potter case. It doesn't mention either Chauvin or Floyd by name.
Jurors were asked whether they agree with the “defund the police” movement that gained momentum after Floyd's death. They were asked whether they trust police — and whether it's right to second-guess an officer's actions under pressure. They were also asked if they had been affected by damaging protests.
Prosecutors and the defense sifted their answers carefully and probed deeper in court. People with moderate views were more likely to be seated, like a man who said he opposed cutting police funding but also said: “I absolutely believe there’s a need for change."
Some potential jurors were asked by the defense if they had any concern about blowback if they were to acquit Potter. The only Black person to make it onto the jury, a woman in her 30s, said that “is not a concern for me.”
One of the few direct mentions of Floyd came from a woman who said his case “caused a lot of trauma in our city" and it made her sad. She said she did not like the negative attention it brought Minneapolis, but said a positive result of protests is that important issues are being discussed.
She made the jury as an alternate.
Just as with Chauvin, Potter's trial is being livestreamed, a rarity in Minnesota that is partly a concession to high public interest and partly due to pandemic considerations. The courtroom has clear plastic dividers that are strategically placed.
People who tune in will see several of the same faces who successfully prosecuted Chauvin, too: Assistant Attorneys General Matthew Frank and Erin Eldridge sit at the prosecution table, with their boss Keith Ellison frequently in the courtroom.
Security is heightened for the trial, with several entrances to the courthouse closed off. But the tall chain-link fences, razor wire and concrete barriers put in place for Chauvin are gone, as are the National Guard soldiers and armored vehicles that patrolled the area this spring. And the building is open to the public.
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