Did the Police Officer Who Accidentally Shot Daunte Wright Deserve Her Sentence?
I have contended frequently that our jury system is woefully defective because unscrupulous prosecutors and personal injury lawyers can easily find uninformed and easily manipulated rubber stamps as opposed to the educated and responsible citizens envisioned by the Founding Fathers. Examples include, in my opinion, the prosecution of Kyle Rittenhouse despite the prosecution's own stipulation that the three men he shot were not only the initial aggressors but pursued Rittenhouse when he tried to retreat from the conflicts they started. Another was Scott Harshbarger (D-Mass.)'s prosecution and conviction of the Amiraults "to protect the children." The same goes for the subsequently vacated conviction of police officer Grant Snowden for a junk child abuse case in which Janet Reno (D-Fla.) played a prominent role.
In this case, twelve apparently "woke" Minnesotans who were too stupid to get out of jury duty appear to have rubber-stamped a manslaughter verdict against police officer Kimberly Potter, who killed a suspect with her sidearm, which she had mistaken for a Taser. This case was supervised by Louis Farrakhan–supporter, 9/11 conspiracy theorist, and Minnesota attorney general Keith Ellison (D-Minn.). The fact that Minnesotans elected somebody like this casts serious doubt on the judgment of the entire state's electorate. Judge Chu's own commentary on the sentencing shows, however, that the case should have never been brought in the first place.
Unlawful Homicide Is a Prerequisite for Manslaughter
The usual definition of manslaughter is an unlawful or reckless act that results in an unintentional and also unlawful homicide. Suppose, for example, that somebody follows Shotgun Joe Biden's quack advice to fire a shotgun to scare off a prowler. The shotgun charge, however, strikes and kills either the prowler or a bystander. It is unlawful to use deadly force on a trespasser who does not pose an immediate threat to your safety, so the homicide is, while unintentional, also unlawful. This makes it manslaughter.
Suppose on the other hand that somebody follows President Houseplant's quack advice to shoot an assailant who is unarmed with a knife in the leg. (Who needs stand-up comedians when the Houseplant in Chief of the United States depicts a knife-wielding assailant as unarmed?) The round hits the assailant's femoral artery, and he bleeds to death before anybody can save him. The homicide is again unintentional, but, as you are justified in using deadly force on an aggressor who is close enough to reach you with a lethal contact weapon, it is not unlawful.
The same would apply if you had no weapon but struck your assailant with your fist, an action that the law's hypothetical reasonable person would not expect to cause death unless you are a professional boxer or martial artist. Your assailant, however, falls in such a way as to strike his head against a hard object, or the pavement, and dies as a result. The homicide is again unintentional but also lawful because you were amply justified in using your hands to defend yourself against his knife. The same might even apply if he did not have a knife because you are justified in meeting a fist with a fist — i.e., your blow was lawful even if it caused an unintentional fatality. An unlawful, or at least grossly negligent act is a prerequisite for manslaughter.
A conviction for first-degree manslaughter in Minnesota requires either intent (but short of the intent required for murder) or commission of an unlawful assault that results in death. Second-degree manslaughter requires "culpable negligence whereby the person creates an unreasonable risk, and consciously takes chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another." Drawing a firearm instead of a Taser would seem to qualify if its sole purpose was to subdue a suspect who is resisting arrest or seeking to escape but otherwise posed no serious threat to police or others.
Daunte Wright was, however, as stipulated by Judge Chu, doing a lot more than just resisting arrest. "And," Chu said, "Potter was trying to protect another officer who could have been dragged and seriously injured if Wright drove away." State laws say almost universally, if not universally, that you can indeed use deadly force to protect yourself or another person from an immediate and unlawful threat of death or serious injury. The judge stated that Daunte Wright was in fact threatening another person with unlawful death or serious injury when he was shot, which ought to make the homicide lawful even though unintentional (similar to shooting the knife-unarmed assailant in his leg and hitting his femoral artery). While I cannot give legal advice, I would certainly encourage Potter's attorneys to appeal the verdict on this basis, especially if the prosecutors do not dispute the judge's statement.
This is by no means an argument that what happened was OK, or should ever be allowed to happen again. This was not the first time that a police officer reached for and used the wrong weapon, but it should be the last. Police departments should ensure that officers do not carry nonlethal weapons next to lethal ones because an officer does not have time to pick and choose between them in a split-second confrontation such as the one that resulted in Wright's death. It means only that Potter had to take immediate action to protect another officer from what she believed reasonably to be an unlawful threat of death or serious injury, and the judge stipulated that this was in fact the situation. If the prosecutors do not contest this statement, then the verdict should indeed be vacated.
Civis Americanus is the pen name of a contributor who remembers the lessons of history and wants to ensure that our country never needs to learn those lessons again the hard way. The author is remaining anonymous due to the likely prospect of being subjected to "cancel culture" for exposing the Big Lie behind Black Lives Matter.
Image via Flickr, public domain.