The verdict in former officer Kim Potter's manslaughter trial will hinge on body camera footage, experts say

The verdict in former officer Kim Potter's manslaughter trial will hinge on body camera footage, experts say
In this screen grab police body cam video is shown in court on Friday, Dec. 10, 2021 at Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn., former Brooklyn Center police Officer Kim Potter reacts after a traffic stop in which Daunte Wright was shot on April 11, 2021. Potter is charged with first- and second-degree manslaughter in the April 11 shooting of Wright, a 20-year-old Black motorist, following a traffic stop in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center.
Former Brooklyn Center police Officer Kim Potter reacts after a traffic stop in which Daunte Wright was shot in this screen grab from police body camera video.Associated Press
  • Body-camera footage played an important role in ex-cop Kim Potter's manslaughter trial.

  • The jury began deliberating at noon on Monday and resumed Tuesday morning.

  • Prosecutors relied on body camera footage to make their case because "video doesn't lie," one expert told Insider.

Prosecutors relied heavily on body camera footage to make their case in former Minnesota police officer Kim Potter's manslaughter trial, using it to try to persuade the jury that Potter's negligence and recklessness led to the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright.

Jurors began deliberations at noon on Monday and resumed Tuesday morning. Potter faces charges of first -and second-degree manslaughter, and a prison sentence of up to 25 years if convicted on both charges.

Potter has said she meant to grab her Taser when she shot Wright during a traffic stop in April. Body camera footage played for the jury showed Potter shooting Wright in the chest while shouting the warning, "Taser!" The footage then showed Potter shout, "Shit! I shot him," before collapsing to the ground and saying that she's "going to prison."

Chris Slobogin, the director of Vanderbilt University's criminal justice program, told Insider that body camera footage is essential in prosecuting cases of police violence because "in the old days when there was a police shooting it was the cop's word against the suspect's, if the suspect survived."

"Now that we have video, it would be negligible of the prosecution not to make use of it," Slobogin said.

Slobogin did not comment directly on Potter's trial because he hadn't reviewed much of the testimony at the time of the interview, but spoke generally about the use of body camera footage in trials of police officers.

Civil rights attorney DeWitt Lacy told Insider that prosecutors used this footage "over and over again" in Potter's case because "video doesn't lie and this evidence is pretty clear."

"The old adage is a picture says one-thousand words," Lacy said. "If that's true, then how much does a video show? Maybe a million."

Potter's emotional testimony in her defense raised the stakes for prosecutors

According to Slobogin, "usually, cops' testimony is going to be self-serving," so it's crucial for prosecutors to use body camera footage in trials of police officers.

Potter broke down when called to the witness stand, at one point shouting, "I'm sorry it happened" and testifying, "I didn't mean to hurt anybody."

Dr. Ziv Cohen, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College, said that Potter's defense team would've anticipated that her testimony would be emotional when deciding to put her on the stand.

"Emotion can be very powerful to reinforce testimony," Cohen told Insider. "And it will leave a lasting impression with the jury by putting her on the stand and having her weeping, talking about having shot Daunte Wright."

In this composite of two police body cam and one dash cam screen grabs from video, shows events of a traffic stop as Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu presides over court Monday, Dec. 13, 2021, in the trial of former Brooklyn Center police Officer Kim Potter in the April 11, 2021, death of Daunte Wright, at the Hennepin County Courthouse in Minneapolis, Minn.
This composite of two police body camera and one dash cam screen grabs shows the events of the fatal traffic stop.Associated Press

Prosecutor Erin Eldridge tried to portray Potter as incompetent on cross-examination, by barraging the former officer with rapid-fire questions about the outbursts she made in the body camera footage shown to jurors.

Eldridge asked Potter if she communicated to any other officers over the radio, or if she tried to render aid to Wright after the shooting. Potter replied that she did not.

"You were focused on what you had done because you had just killed somebody," Eldridge said.

"I'm sorry it happened," Potter said, before breaking down in tears. "I'm so sorry."

Cohen speculated that the case will be difficult for the jury to decide because the "fact pattern" of Potter's testimony supports both the prosecution's argument and the defense's argument.

"I think that it's clear from her testimony that she made a mistake, and that she didn't have any malevolent intention or behavior," Cohen said. "But unfortunately, making a mistake can qualify as culpable negligence or even as recklessness."

The judge handed Potter's defense a win by blocking some body camera footage from evidence

The state's momentum in the case slowed when it tried to admit some still images and footage from the body cameras of several police officers who arrived after the shooting. Hennepin County Judge Regina Chu blocked the admission of the material into evidence after defense attorneys objected that it was cumulative, or likely to sway the jury based on emotional value.

Slobogin said it's normal in trials for defense lawyers to object to evidence in this way, "not so much because it becomes repetitive" but "because it becomes prejudicial."

"It leads the jury to disregard the actual evidence in the case and decide based on bias or emotion," Slobogin told Insider.

Defense attorneys also gained some ground after the judge upheld their objections to the prosecution asking police officers to describe what was happening on body camera footage. Chu did not allow a Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent who reviewed Potter's body camera footage after the shooting to testify about what that footage showed.

In the video, former Sgt. Michael Johnson comforts Potter after the shooting and says, "Kim, that guy was going to take off with me in the car." Potter's defense team had made the fact that Johnson was leaning into Wright's car before the shooting a central point in its argument that Potter was justified in using deadly force against Wright.

Potter said under oath that she doesn't remember Johnson saying that Wright was trying to drive away. Johnson also testified that he doesn't remember saying that Wright was "trying to take off" while he was in the car.

Prosecutors tried to use the BCA agent's testimony to make the case that Johnson was not reaching into Wright's car during the shooting, but Chu said they needed to wait until closing arguments to make that claim.

"I am not going to allow BCA agents to get up on the stand and tell the jury what a video shows," Chu said. "The video is the evidence."

Read the original article on Insider