A tale of two cops: A mistake is a crime while an intentional shooting is not
The law is not always equal. We know that. Former Minnesota police officer, Kim Potter, has been convicted of the death of Daunte Wright. On the other hand, U.S. Capitol Police Dept. Lt. Michael Byrd was never under investigation for the intentional killing of Ashli Babbitt on January 6, 2021. (A tale of two deaths: Ashli Babbitt a homicide, what about Officer Sicknick?)
A tale of two officers – Kim Potter vs. U.S. Capitol Police Dept. Lt. Michael Byrd
While former Minnesota police officer, Kim Potter, has been convicted of accidentally shooting a criminal, U.S. Capitol Police Department Lieutenant Michael Byrd was never charged for intentionally killing Ashli Babbitt.
Babbitt was an Air Force veteran, having served multiple tours. She was a diminutive woman who carried no weapon nor posed any threat.
When Byrd shot her, there were multiple armed police along the wall. Any one of them could have easily picked her up and arrested her.
Byrd was the judge, jury, and executioner of an unarmed woman.
Michael Byrd, a black male, is married, the father of two children.
In 1993, Byrd, 53, joined the Capitol Police Department. He holds the rank of lieutenant.
At the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, a 14-year veteran of the United States Air Force, Ashli Babbitt, was shot and killed by Lieutenant Byrd. She was allegedly trying to climb through a broken window into the Speaker’s Lobby at the Capitol.
Babbitt’s deployments include Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, and Qatar. Her service record was exemplary. In addition, she did not have a criminal record.
Her only crime on that day, criminal trespassing, did not rise to the level that lethal force as being necessary or authorized.
Unlike the violent crimes of a black offender, Daunte Wright, Babbitt’s was a minor misdemeanor.
Potter issued a warning before firing during the Minnesota shooting, although it was the wrong warning. Meanwhile, in D.C., Byrd gave no prior notice to protesters or fellow officers.
When Byrd shot Babbitt, he placed into jeopardy those officers who were behind the closed doors to the Speaker’s Chambers and were about to clear the hallway.
Those officers took cover, informing fellow officers of their presence and ordering to ceasefire.
Photos later released (see lead photo) showed Byrd flashing his firearm around indiscriminately inside the Capitol building. Including it pointed at other officers with his finger inside the trigger guard, which violates all police training.
Meanwhile, Potter used total safety procedures in Minnesota to ensure that her less-than-lethal weapon would strike only the offender.
Again, there has been no mention of the black officer’s mishandling of his weapon or any other safety issue in the media.
Why would this be an issue in one shooting but not the other?
Not much has been officially released about Byrd’s career except that numerous media have reported that in February 2019, he left his department-issued and fully loaded Glock 22 .40 caliber pistol unattended in a restroom stall.
Fortunately, another officer found the weapon during a routine security sweep.
Byrd bragged at the time that because he was a lieutenant, he would face no discipline.
Of course, what was unstated, but understood, was that nothing would happen to him because he was a black lieutenant. Had he been white, it would have been different. And, of course, nothing did happen to the black male officer.
What happened in the two cases tells the tale of hypocrisy and racism in this nation today and bodes ill on the future of policing across the country.
On April 11, 2021, Officer Kim Potter was backing up a second officer at a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. The original officer pulled the vehicle over due to expired registration. The officers learned that the driver, Daunte Wright, had an outstanding warrant involving a firearm during the stop.
The originating officer attempted to place Wright under arrest. However, Wright immediately began to resist the lawful arrest. During the ensuing struggle, when Wright broke free and reentered his car in an attempt to flee, Officer Potter, believing she had drawn her Taser, shouted, “Taser, Taser, Taser.”
A warning to Wright and the other officer that she was going to use her less than the lethal option.
Instead, Potter accidentally drew her firearm. Firing a single shot, Wright was lethally hit.
Potter’s aim was true and endangered only Wright.
Immediately after the bullet exploded out of her weapon, Potter cried out, “Holy shit! I shot him,” when she realized her fatal mistake.
In this case, Daunte Wright, the deceased, was only 20-years-old but had already amassed himself an “impressive” criminal record.
Despite many media portrayals of Wright as a young father with a learning disability, Wright’s criminal sheet includes charges of first-degree aggravated (armed) robbery, fleeing from police, and possessing a handgun without a permit.
The outstanding warrant for Wright was for fleeing and weapons charges. Severe charges. Any reasonable officer would know that Wright presented a threat to others unless taken into custody.
While the lethal force was not called for, it wasn’t intended to be used. Every action taken by Potter demonstrates that fact.
Officer Potter is a married mother of two adult sons, ages 19 and 22.
She is 48 and has served her police department for 26 years, joining the department in 1995.
Potter is a former president of the police union, worked on the department’s hostage negotiation team, and worked as a field training officer. The position she was fulfilling the evening that she made a mistake.
Kim Potter was an exceptional officer with an outstanding career record of accomplishment and duty to the community and her police department.
She is an example of duty, honor, and pride to her sons. Potter is a role model to anyone who aspires to be a productive member of their community.
She is a white, female and active in her church.
Potter does not pose a flight or criminal risk. Judge Chu could have shown mercy, allowing her to spend Christmas at home, reporting to jail later. (To promote healing, Black leaders should forgive Officer Kim Potter)
However, after conviction, Potter was denied bail pending sentencing,
“A double injustice with dangerous implications for policing in America,” Harvard Law professor emeritus, Alan Dershowitz, said in an opinion piece in The Hill.
Dershowitz argues that a mistake is not a crime, least of all the crime of first-degree manslaughter, of which Potter was convicted.
“Officer Potter, a decorated policewoman with more than two decades of service, simply did not commit a crime,” Dershowitz writes in his column, published in The Hill. “Under American law, honest mistakes are not crimes — even if they result in tragic deaths.
“An elderly driver accidentally putting a foot on the gas instead of the brake and killing a child is not necessarily a crime,” Dershowitz argued. “It becomes a crime only if the action was reckless, involving a conscious decision to engage in conduct which the defendant knows poses a high risk of serious injury or death.”
Furthermore, there is no evidence that Potter consciously decided to fire her service weapon and not her Taser. There was insufficient evidence demonstrating a conscious decision to shoot and kill Wright.
The opposite is true, as Potter’s actions were caught on video, proving that she grabbed the wrong weapon in the heat of the arrest.
“Wright had an outstanding warrant for an armed crime, and his conscious decision to resist arrest and get back in his car constituted a direct threat to the life of Potter’s fellow officer and others,” said Dershowitz. “She was right to tase him, but she made a mistake by firing the wrong weapon.”
Potter admitted that she confused her handgun with her Taser when she killed Wright. However, that was never a question for the jury to resolve. Instead, the question was whether her pulling the wrong weapon was a crime.
The jury found that it was.
Alan Dershowitz believes that the jury didn’t understand the difference between an unfortunate accident and a crime.
Possibly Judge Regina Chu issued improper jury instructions. Or maybe the jury ignored those instructions. In either case, this finding is ripe for appeal.
Yet Chu ordered Potter to be put into the custody of the State Department of Corrections. Thus Potter begins to serve her sentence even before Judge Chu decides how long she will serve for this mistake.
Kim Potter will sit in a woman’s prison until sentencing in February.
First-degree manslaughter, the most serious charge against Potter, carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison. A long time considering that she only made a mistake without the intent to harm.
Potter submitted her resignation immediately. However, three days after the incident, Potter was arrested and charged with second-degree manslaughter. Well before a thorough investigation could have been conducted.
Later first-degree manslaughter was added to her charges.
That is important because what happened to Potter would not have had she been black, female or male.
Lt. Byrd suffered no such fate in the killing of Ashli Babbitt
In contrast to Potter, Byrd was on paid administrative leave for three months. His identity hidden better than a defecting Chinese agent. In April 2021, about the same time Officer Potter was indicted, Officer Byrd was cleared of any wrongdoing by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Despite the fact that he violated a number of standard police procedures. (Ashli Babbitts tragic death at the Capitol: A shot heard round the world
Not the least of which was providing a warning that he was about to use deadly force. This is warning is in the federal statutes pertaining to a federal officer’s use of deadly force. However, it appears that this black officer could do no wrong throughout his entire career.
And worst of all, he knew it.
Officer Potter has expressed deep remorse for what she did.
And what she did was to make a horrible mistake, nothing more. While the results were no different than Babbitt’s, the circumstances could not be farther apart.
In the meantime, Lieutenant Byrd conducted an interview on NBC News, where he expressed no remorse for shooting an unarmed woman and instead portrayed himself as a victim.
Can you imagine if Potter had done the same?
Potter is guilty of first and second-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Daunte Wright, a convicted criminal.
And she is already in women’s prison beginning her sentence, even though the judge in the case has yet to find what the length will be.
Meanwhile, Byrd continues as an unrepentant Police Lieutenant and is in charge of officers in a department that is expanding its reach across the nation.
While the death of Daunte Wright was not technically justified he died while resisting a lawful arrest.
His demise was not a crime by any stretch of the imagination. It meets none of the criteria for the crime of manslaughter. Which should be reversed upon appeal.
Until then a fine, outstanding police officer, wife, and mother will remain in prison for having made a mistake.
Doesn’t seem fair, does it?
Her conviction and imprisonment will have far-reaching effects upon this nation for decades to come.
Particularly as crime continues to explode across the nation, and police continue to retreat. It leaves the rest of us to ponder what our future holds.
It proves that without justice for all, there can be no peace and tranquility. Nor will this nation be great again until justice is for everyone, regardless of race, sex, or national heritage.
About the author:
Political Staff Writer Joseph Ragonese is a veteran of the United States Air Force, a retired police officer, has a degree in Criminal Justice, a businessman, journalist, editor, publisher, and fiction author. His last book, “The Sword of Mohammad,” can be purchased at Amazon.com in paperback or kindle edition.
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