Questions Remain After Dallas Cop Charged For Fatally Shooting Black Man in His Home
Update 9/24/18: Amber Guyger, the Dallas police officer who murdered Botham Jean in his own home, has been fired, according to a statement released by the Dallas Police Department. The hearing held on September 24th by Dallas Police Chief Renée Hall resulted in the termination, and Guyger has the right to appeal.
On Sunday evening, Dallas Police Department officer Amber Guyger, 30, was arrested and charged with manslaughter for fatally shooting Botham Shem Jean, 26, in his own apartment on September 6th. While Guyger was in uniform and used her service weapon to shoot Jean in the chest and abdomen at approximately 10 p.m. on September 6th, she was off-duty. Guyger lives in the same apartment complex as Jean, but one floor below, and she claims she mistakenly thought Jean’s apartment was her own and thought he was an intruder.
Both Dallas PD and the Texas Rangers have been involved in the investigation, and there have given varying accounts of what occurred; however, according to the attorney for Jean’s family, Lee Merritt, some of the details in the arrest affidavit are disputed by witnesses. Merritt has also criticized law enforcement’s handling of the case, and the length of time it took for Guyger to be arrested.
“We don’t want it lost on anyone that, had this been a regular citizen, she would have never left the crime scene,” Merritt said, according to the New York Times.
According to Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall, “At the very early stages of this investigation, initial indications were that they were what we consider circumstances of an officer-involved shooting.” Per department policy, even though she was off-duty, Guyger was considered an “involved officer” not a “regular citizen.”
However, according to Hall, by Friday, the day after the incident, “It became clear that we were dealing with what appears to be a much different and very unique situation.”
At that time, Chief Hall stated her intention to seek an arrest warrant on manslaughter charges, but declined to name the officer. Hall said that DPD had asked the Texas Rangers to take over the case “to eliminate the appearance of any potential bias.” By Friday night, Guyger still had not been named or been arrested. According to Hall, an arrest affidavit had not been filed after all, because the Rangers had instructed the department to “hold off,” pending further investigation.
According to the department’s General Orders, the night of the shooting, Guyger would have been required “to relate a brief account of the incident to the first supervisor to arrive and to that supervisor only.” DPD’s General Orders also dictate that “involved officers must ‘undergo a debriefing interview in the investigative offices to establish the detailed facts surrounding the incident.’” While Guyger did provide details of the incident on the night of, a debriefing interview did not occur. Reached for comment, DPD tells Rolling Stone, “All of the information we have released about this incident has been posted to our blog,” and directed any questions to the Texas Rangers.
Guyger’s official account of the incident was given in her first interview — to the Texas Rangers — sometime on Saturday, and is contained into the arrest affidavit they filed on Sunday.
According to the affidavit, Guyger, upon returning home from her shift, parked on the wrong floor of the building’s parking garage, exited into the wrong floor of the building, and thought Jean’s apartment (which is directly above hers) was her own. Jean’s apartment has a bright red doormat, and each apartment has a light fixture that illuminates each unit’s apartment number; the affidavit notes that the hallways and apartment layouts in the building are all the same.
According to the affidavit, Guyger said the door was “ajar,” but she still inserted her key card and the “force” made the door open. The lights were off and Guyger claims it was too dark to tell that she was in the wrong apartment, but she did see a silhouette moving across the room. Guyger drew her weapon, “gave verbal commands that were ignored,” and then fired twice, hitting Jean once in the chest and abdomen. Guyger dialed 911 before turning on the lights; that’s when she realized her mistake. Jean was rushed to a local hospital and died a short time later.
Guyger’s account of the incident in the affidavit contains new details and key differences from early reports by the local media. For example, on Saturday, the local NBC news affiliate, citing an anonymous police source, wrote that Guyger “struggled with the lock” and was “fight[ing] with the key when the resident swung open the door.” In that account, the shooting happened in the doorway to the apartment. The story was syndicated by other NBC news outlets. NBC has since deleted the account of the anonymous police source (an archived version of the article is preserved here) “due to conflicting reports of the incident from various sources.”
However, that “conflicting report” is similar to the one given in the Texas Rangers’ search warrant affidavit filed on Saturday, which states that Guyger was “attempting to enter the apartment with a set of keys” when Jean “confronted the officer at the door.” There is no mention of Guyger giving “verbal commands” — though a neighbor is noted as having heard “an exchange of words” — before shooting Jean. Rolling Stone’s attempts to seek comment from the Texas Rangers have thus far been unsuccessful.
Reached for comment, the Texas Rangers would only confirm the basic known details of their investigation and Guyger’s arrest, but declined to answer questions or provide further information, telling Rolling Stone that the case had been handed over to the District Attorney’s Office. Reached for comment, the Dallas DA’s Office told Rolling Stone they were unable to respond to questions or offer further comment on the case. “It’s an ongoing investigation and evidence and information [are] still being gathered,” the response read. “Once the investigation is completed, the full case will be presented to the Grand Jury.”
By Sunday, Guyger had been named by Dallas PD, but she still had not been arrested or charged, and the Merritt and the Jean family were demanding answers.
“We want to know why that person is not in handcuffs yet,” Merritt said before meeting with Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson on Sunday. Afterwards, he said that he presented Johnson with new evidence and demanded that Guyger be taken into custody.
After Merritt’s meeting with DA Johnson, the Texas Rangers issued a warrant for Guyger’s arrest on manslaughter charges. While Guyger’s arrest brought some relief, there have been questions about why she was charged with manslaughter instead of murder. According to the Texas penal code, murder is committed when a person “intentionally or knowingly causes the death of an individual,” or “intends to cause serious bodily injury and commits an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of an individual.” Manslaughter, on the other hand, is when a person “recklessly causes the death of another individual.”
When the arrest affidavit filed by the Texas Rangers was released on Monday, Merritt disputed the claim that Jean’s door was ajar and that Guyger gave him verbal commands. Merritt told the New York Times that witnesses who lived in the building had told the DA’s office that they heard Guyger banging on Jean’s door and saying, “Let me in.”
“It would be irresponsible to rely on this extremely bizarre, self-serving affidavit,” said Merritt.
Guyger was booked shortly after 7 p.m. on Sunday evening, and released a few hours later on $300,000 bond. At a press conference on Monday, DA Johnson said that her office would be continuing to investigate, and while Guyger is charged with manslaughter for now, ultimately a grand jury would weigh the evidence and determine whether more serious charges are warranted. This is Guyger’s second shooting in her four years as an officer; she shot and wounded a suspect in May 2017 during an on-duty incident and was not charged.
“Trust me, we will present to the grand jury everything that we can possibly present to them,” Johnson said at a news conference.
While the Jean family is relieved that Guyger has finally been charged, Merritt has criticized how the case been handled by the DPD, Texas Rangers and the DA’s Office.
“His killer … was able to leave Botham’s home, return to her home and not face any consequences for three days,” he said. “This city has to share in our cries for justice.”
Merrit also told the Washington Post, “I have to believe based on experience that her decision to use deadly force in the way that she did was influenced by the fact that she was standing in front of a black male and that our society has allowed law enforcement to use deadly force in unnecessary situations against black men with impunity.”
Botham Shem Jean was raised in St. Lucia before moving to the U.S. to get his bachelor’s degree from Harding University in Arkansas. He worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dallas, was an active member of his Christian church, and has been described as someone who “loved mankind.” He will be buried on Thursday.
Jean’s mother, Allison Jean, flew to Dallas over the weekend. Following Guyger’s arrest, she issued a brief statement, saying, “We are not satisfied that we have all the answers. And the number one answer that I want is, what happened? I’ve asked too many questions and I’ve been told that there are no answers yet