Brooklyn Center, Minn.—It was a typical Sunday afternoon, and Daunte Wright was driving with his girlfriend, Alayna Albrecht-Payton, in this Minneapolis suburb to get his white Buick LaCrosse cleaned. The 20-year-old Black man had just left his parents’ house after his mother, Katie Bryant, gave him $50 for gas and a car wash.

On the way out, Wright kissed his 1-year-old son, Daunte Jr., goodbye.

Soon after, Wright called Bryant through Facebook messenger asking her about a car wash he could go to. Bryant first told him about a place in Fridley, about five miles from Brooklyn Center. Wright then asked Bryant if she knew another one closer. Bryant thought of Mister Car Wash in Brooklyn Park.

At around 2 pm on that day, last April 11, two Brooklyn Center Police Department cops—Kim Potter and Anthony Luckey—driving on Zane Avenue spotted an air freshener dangling from the rearview mirror of Wright’s car. They pulled him over.

As the officers looked up his information, Wright phoned his mother again. This time, he wanted to tell her that police officers had stopped him, nervously asking Bryant if he was going to be OK. By then, Potter and Luckey had noticed that Wright had an expired registration and an outstanding warrant for his arrest. So they requested that a third officer, Sgt. Mychal Johnson, join them as a backup.

The officers ordered Wright to come out of the car in an attempt to take him into custody. Wright complied and got out of the vehicle. But as Luckey tried to handcuff him, he broke free and got back in the driver’s seat. Within seconds, while Luckey and Johnson struggled to prevent Wright from getting behind the wheel, Potter drew her black 9-mm handgun, aimed it at his chest, and pulled the trigger as she shouted, “Taser! Taser! Taser!”

Wright died at the scene.

Wright was a baller and a jokester with a contagious smile that, in the words of his mother, “would light up a room.” He’d worked at a Famous Footwear with his father, Arbuey, and had been enrolled in a Minneapolis trade school called Summit Academy. He aspired to become a carpenter.

The deadly traffic stop—which occurred a few miles from where, at the time, ex–Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin was still standing in trial for the murder of George Floyd—sparked days of protests and led to Potter’s resignation from the Brooklyn Center Police Department.

Potter, who is white, was charged with two criminal counts. Last Thursday, after two weeks of tense and emotional testimony at the Hennepin County courthouse in downtown Minneapolis, a jury of 12 men and women began deliberating about Potter’s fate. On Christmas Eve, the jurors reached a verdict.

THE TRIAL

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison—who led the successful prosecution of Chauvin, who is now serving a 22.2-year prison sentence—was also in charge of the criminal case against Potter. The criminal complaint his team filed listed two counts against the defendant: first- and second-degree manslaughter.

The first count is a misdemeanor offense regarding the “reckless handling or use of a fireman.” This recklessness, according to the complaint, endangered the safety of those around Potter on that afternoon. So much so that “death or great bodily harm to any person was reasonably foreseeable.”

The second count accused Potter of causing “an unreasonable risk and consciously [taking] a chance of causing death or great bodily harm” to Wright “while using or possessing a firearm.”

Throughout the trial, prosecutors Matthew Frank and Erin Eldridge emphasized that Potter wasn’t a rookie officer and should have known what she was doing. They reminded jurors that she was a 26-year veteran of the force, and a longtime field training officer (FTO) who was responsible for teaching trainees department policies.

In fact, on the day of the incident, Potter had been doing just that. She came to work at 6 a.m. on that fateful day, and her main job was to train officer Luckey. Right before they saw Wright’s Buick, Potter was talking to her partner about the tasks required of a patrol officer on the streets. Potter testified that she and Luckey “were talking about pursuit policies, doing regular FTO training.”

During the opening argument, prosecutor Eldridge tried to convince jurors that Potter ignored the instructions she was giving just moments before she fatally shot Wright. “She was trained not to use unnecessary force,” Eldridge said. “She was trained not to shoot an unarmed driver. She was trained not to fire into a vehicle. And, importantly, she was also trained about the risks of pulling the wrong weapon—that drawing and firing the wrong weapon could kill someone.”

Defense attorneys Paul Engh and Earl Gray, on the other hand, argued that Potter had to use force to save her partners. They explained to jurors that she felt that Johnson, who was halfway inside Wright’s car while trying to prevent him from fleeing, was in danger. If Potter didn’t stop Wright, Engh said, he would have driven away “with a police officer dangling from his car.” As a result, he added, Johnson would have been killed or sustained serious injuries in the process.

On the question about why she used her gun instead of the taser, Engh told the jury that Potter made an unfortunate mistake. “This was an accident,” he said. “She’s a human being. But she had to do what she had to do to prevent death from a fellow officer.”

THE VERDICT

In the end, a jury of six men and six women had to decide Potter’s fate. Nine of the jurors were white, two were Asian, and one was Black; their ages ranged from their 20s to their 60s.

Jurors deliberated around 27 hours over four days. At some point during the deliberations, they asked Judge Regina Chu what they should do if they couldn’t reach a verdict. The judge read them an instruction, saying that they should continue to “discuss the case with one another and deliberate with a view toward reaching agreement if you can do so without violating your individual judgment.”

On Thursday, the jury did reach an outcome, which Judge Chu read aloud in the afternoon as Potter listened, standing between her two attorneys: they found Potter guilty of both first- and second-degree manslaughter in the April 11 killing of Wright. The first count is punishable by up to 15 years; the second carries a maximum penalty of 10 years.

Judge Chu ordered the convicted ex-cop to be held without bail as she awaits sentencing in February. Soon after, Potter was led out of the court in handcuffs.

Bryant, Wright’s mother, spoke to reporters about how she left after listening to the verdict. “I kind of let out a yelp,” she said, “because it was built up in the anticipation of what was to come while we were waiting for the last few days.” Bryant then thanked activists and the prosecution team, including Ellison, who stood by her side during the press conference.

Before he spoke of the verdict, Ellison took some time to remember Wright and the person he could have been had he still been alive. Wright could have achieved anything, Ellison said. “Maybe he could have gone into the building trades,” he added. “Maybe he could have started a business. He had this whole life in front of him.” Wright’s absence, Ellison continued, is going to be especially difficult during these holidays, when the Wright family will have an empty chair at the dinner table—“and that saddens me.”

Responding to the jury decision, Ellison noted that Potter’s guilty verdict offers accountability, not justice. “Justice would be restoring Daunte to life and making the Wright family whole again. Justice is beyond the reach that we have in this life for Daunte.”

Still, Ellison continued, accountability is “a critical, necessary step on the road to justice for us all.” And with that, Ellison closed the year with the convictions of two white police officers who killed two unarmed Black men in Minnesota.