Equal Justice? Contrasting Potter and Baldwin


Comparing the Kim Potter and Alec Baldwin cases is a powerful illustration of the missing element in our criminal justice system. Prosecutors are granted broad discretion in who they charge, so that they may consider the totality of circumstances and provide something that the literal interpretation of laws can’t — justice. But the Potter and Baldwin cases show just how far astray from that goal our systems have wandered.

The key events in both cases are remarkably similar. In both cases, a human being was accidentally shot and killed with a firearm. The facts in both cases are undisputed. Both Kim Potter and Alec Baldwin shot and killed another person. In neither case did the shooters intend to kill anyone. But the totality of circumstances would indicate completely different treatments needed for actual “justice.” The circumstances leading up to and following those incidents reveal just how corrupt our criminal justice system has become.

On April 11, 2021, Kim Potter was one of several police officers attempting to arrest Daunte Wright on an outstanding warrant for a firearms violation. He was also alleged to be in violation of a restraining order. Wright attempted to flee the scene in his car with a female passenger — otherwise known as a hostage. Officers wrestled with Wright to prevent him from fleeing. Officer Potter eventually pulled her service weapon and shot and killed Daunte Wright. She immediately admitted that she had made a mistake, as she had intended to tase him instead.

Within three days of the shooting, Kim Potter was indicted for 2nd-degree manslaughter. A month later, the case was taken over by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison. That would be the same Keith Ellison with past associations with the Nation of Islam, and the Vice Lords gang. The Vice Lords were responsible for the execution-style killing of Minneapolis police officer Jerry Haaf in 1992. Ellison also worked with Vice Lords leader Sharif Willis, who was also implicated in the Haaf killing, to orchestrate antipolice protests. Ellison is now the top law enforcement official in Minnesota. He upgraded the charges against Potter to 1st-degree manslaughter.

Given his background, is it any surprise that Ellison would use the power of his office to go after a cop? Just as a bit of background, Keith Ellison also led the prosecution of Derek Chauvin after the George Floyd death. Is it possible that the races of these particular victims might support some narrative that Ellison is promoting? Should that be a consideration in charging decisions? Does anyone doubt that it was?

Potter went to trial in December of 2021. The judge failed to inform the jury that manslaughter in Minnesota requires the defendant to intentionally create circumstances of negligence. Without that intent, the incident is only an accident — for which civil, not criminal liability applies. The jury convicted Kim Potter on all counts.

On October 21, 2021, Alec Baldwin was preparing to shoot a scene for his new movie Rust. He was both the lead actor and the producer, making him responsible for various aspects of management on the set.

As he sat quietly in a church pew on the set, he drew a revolver for practice, pointed it at the director of photography, Halyna Hutchins, and fired the weapon killing her and wounding the director, Joel Souza. Apparently, unbeknownst to anyone, the revolver was loaded.

After the incident, it was learned that there had been several accidental discharges of firearms on the set. Some crew members had quit, due to lax gun safety. Others were frequently using the revolver in question for target shooting during breaks. The totality of circumstances was such that the probability of an “accident” was near its maximum — and everyone had been forewarned.

The Baldwin shooting is still under investigation by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department. But that hasn’t stopped Baldwin from taking his story on the road. He even sat for an hour-long interview with George Stephanopoulos, in which he proclaimed that he felt no guilt over the incident because he hadn’t done anything wrong. He claims he had no duty to ensure the safety of the gun he was holding in his own hand. He was just practicing with a weapon that his staff had declared safe. It was their fault, not his. He was only the shooter.

In both incidents, people were accidentally shot and killed. In one incident, the shooting occurred while the victim was wrestling with police officers and attempting to flee with a hostage. The use of deadly force would have been justified. But because Potter meant to tase him instead, she was tried and convicted of manslaughter.

In the other incident, the victim was killed while the shooter was sitting, under no stress, in a church, playing with a loaded gun that hadn’t been checked. Nobody has questioned Baldwin’s intent. But he violated every safety rule prescribed by the gun and filmmaking industries, pointed a loaded weapon at another human being, and fired it.

I’m not saying that the Santa Fe Sheriff should rush their investigation of the Hutchins shooting. I want them to do a thorough and complete investigation. I am saying that there was a rush to bring the power of the state to bear against Kim Potter — simply because she was a police officer. And this rush to judgment was made by the same people that have tacitly supported the defund the police movement. It was about politics, not justice. Kim Potter was just the egg that had to be broken for the omelet.

In the heat of wrestling with a known thug, Potter’s first instinct was to spare his life. Only an accident prevented her from doing so. She then immediately admitted her error. Baldwin’s first instinct has been to blame everyone but himself for his mistake — showing no remorse or acceptance of culpability. Can anyone claim that justice has been factored into the treatment of the two cases?

Isn’t Kim Potter precisely the kind of cop we want on the force? Yet she’s going to prison because she’s also human. Will sending her to prison for an accident help us get more good cops or more ill-suited cops? Will the public benefit from her incarceration, or suffer? Is this anyone’s definition of justice, other than the radicals of the left?

Cases such as Potter’s are exactly why prosecutors are granted prosecutorial discretion — so that they may factor justice into their charging decisions based on the totality of circumstances. But when radicals are elected into top law enforcement positions (looking at you, Keith Ellison), that discretion is used for the opposite of justice.

Now, Kim Potter is going to jail, and Alec Baldwin will probably be stumping for more gun control. How’s that for justice?

Episodes such as this reflect our social values. We value actors enough to cut them a little slack. Cops, not so much. But then the police only keep us safe. The actors entertain us.

John Green | COLUMNIST

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