Former Dallas Police Officer Indicted On Murder Charges In Botham Jean Shooting

Former Dallas police office Amber Guyger has been charged with murder in connection with the September shooting of Botham Jean in his own apartment.

Amber Guyger, the off-duty Dallas police officer who shot and killed Botham Shem Jean under circumstances that remain entirely suspicious, has been charged with murder by a Dallas Grand Jury:

A former Dallas police officer was indicted on a murder charge on Friday for shooting an unarmed, 26-year-old African-American accountant who was watching TV in his apartment, a home that the officer says she mistook as her own.

A Dallas County grand jury charged Amber R. Guyger, 30, over the Sept. 6 killing of Botham Jean in his apartment, which was one floor above hers. If convicted, Ms. Guyger could receive five years to life in prison.

Ms. Guyger, a white officer who was returning from her shift but dressed in uniform at the time, said that she mistook Mr. Jean’s apartment for her own, that his door was slightly ajar and that it opened when she tried to unlock it. She thought he was a burglar, she said.

Lawyers for Mr. Jean’s family have said that the door was closed, and that neighbors heard someone banging on the door, demanding to be let in, before the gun was fired. Ms. Guyger fired her service weapon twice, striking Mr. Jean once in the torso, according to court documents. Mr. Jean, who worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers, died at a hospital.

Robert L. Rogers, a lawyer representing Ms. Guyger and a former Dallas County prosecutor, said his client was not guilty of murder.

“I’m not surprised that there was an indictment returned, due to what I perceived to be a tremendous amount of outside political pressure, a tremendous outpouring of vindictive emotion towards my client, and actual emotion that I believe was injected into the grand jury process,” Mr. Rogers said in an interview.

Mr. Rogers said Ms. Guyger was not guilty because she believed that she was inside her apartment that night.

“I believe it was reasonable for her to believe that she was being threatened with an intruder in her home and therefore she acted in self-defense,” he said. “The law justifies her actions.”

Mr. Rogers added, “Her heart goes out to the family, and, at the same time, she didn’t commit a crime.”

Chief U. Reneé Hall of the Dallas Police Department fired Ms. Guyger after her arrest in Mr. Jean’s killing and an internal investigation. The department said that she was “terminated for her actions” during her arrest on manslaughter charges.

“We cannot have this culture where we shoot first and ask questions later,” said Daryl K. Washington, a lawyer for the Jean family, after the indictment was announced.

The Jean family has also filed a federal lawsuit against Ms. Guyger and the City of Dallas, saying that the off-duty officer used excessive force and violated Mr. Jean’s civil rights. Mr. Washington on Friday pointed to what he called “serious training issues” in Dallas, and said departments across the country needed to delve deeper into disproportionate use of force against African-Americans.

Chief Hall said in a statement on Friday that the department had already improved its training and oversight.

Hundreds of mourners attended Mr. Jean’s funeral at a church in Richardson, Tex., and he was buried on Sept. 24 in his native country, St. Lucia.

(…)

Protesters rallied for weeks calling for Ms. Guyger to be charged with murder. They demanded justice in front of Dallas Police Headquarters and inside a City Council meeting. They were further roiled when some demonstrators remained in jail for two days, while Ms. Guyger posted a $300,000 bond and walked free within hours. Another rally was held outside a Dallas Cowboys game to protest the jailing of demonstrators.

Dallas County is 40 percent Latino and 23 percent black, and its police chiefsheriff and district attorney are all African-Americans.

More from the Dallas Morning News:

The family of a Dallas man who was killed in his own home expressed relief but little joy Friday after the former police officer who shot Botham Jean was indicted on a murder charge.

“We really are not happy,” his father, Bertrum Jean, said, “but we take consolation, we take comfort at this time.”

A Dallas County grand jury delivered the indictment against Amber Guyger after weighing the evidence against the fired Dallas officer Monday and Wednesday.

Guyger, 30, initially had been arrested on a manslaughter charge, three days after the Sept. 6 shooting.

Her attorney, Robert Rogers, said Friday that he wasn’t surprised by the indictment, considering “all the political pressure and the emotion that seemed to be injected into the process,” but that he didn’t think the law supported a murder conviction.

“Two innocent lives have been forever changed,” he said. “I feel for Botham Jean’s family, and I can’t imagine the pain they are going through. But when you look at the law, this was a tragic mistake.

“Amber Guyger felt she was in her apartment,” he added. ”I don’t think there is any dispute to that. She was justified in her actions.”

Guyger turned herself in at the Mesquite jail about 1 p.m. Friday to be booked on the murder charge, Mesquite police Lt. Stephen Biggs said. She quickly posted a $200,000 bond, nearly three months after posting a $300,000 bond on the original manslaughter charge.

The new count appeared to be only the second murder indictment of a Dallas police officer in at least 45 years, courthouse observers said.

(…)

When Jean, 26, was killed, he had been watching football in his apartment a few blocks north of police headquarters in the Cedars. Guyger, who had just finished her police shift, entered and shot him.

She told authorities she had mistaken Jean’s apartment for her own and believed he was a burglar. Jean lived in the apartment directly above Guyger’s at the South Side Flats complex.

Protesters rallied for weeks in Dallas after Jean’s death. He was buried in his native St. Lucia on Sept. 24, the same day Guyger was fired from the Police Department.

Jean, who grew up on the Caribbean island, came to the U.S. to attend Harding University in Arkansas and later moved to Dallas for a job at PwC as an accountant. He had hoped one day to return to St. Lucia and run for prime minister.

Jean’s parents spoke after a news conference where Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson announced the murder indictment.

Allison Jean, Botham’s mother, pumped her fist when Johnson announced that Guyger would now face a murder charge.

She said she knew her son was a victim of murder “from the very start” and thanked the community and Johnson’s office for securing the new charge against Guyger.

“I truly believe that she inflicted tremendous evil on my son,” Allison Jean said. “I look forward to the next test, which is a conviction … a proper penalty so she can reflect on what she has done.”

Bertrum Jean said the family was relieved by the grand jury’s decision but hoped for more comfort to come.

“It is such a hard thing to go through,” he said. “We miss our boy dearly.”

Sammie Berry, who was Jean’s pastor at Dallas West Church of Christ, said the taking of the young man’s life was more than just an “unfortunate situation or a perfect storm.”

“We want the entire world, the entire community, to pray for the Jean family as they go through the trial and through that process,” Berry said.

Johnson said it would be at least a year before the case against Guyger goes to trial. She compared it to the trial of Roy Oliver, a Balch Springs officer who killed 15-year-old Jordan Edwards by firing into a car full of teenagers. In Oliver’s case, 16 months passed between the shooting and the trial.

Oliver, who was fired from the Balch Springs police force, was found guilty of murder in August and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Johnson said that before the Guyger case went to the grand jury, her office did “all kinds of lab testing” and conducted more than 300 interviews with witnesses.

“What I’m saying to you is we did a full, complete presentation to the grand jury,” she said.

(…)

The grand jurors​ could have voted to indict Guyger on a manslaughter charge, the count she was initially arrested on, or another charge, or they ​could ​have decided she should face no charges at all.

Because grand jury proceedings are secret, it is unknown exactly what evidence prosecutors presented to the jurors. But attorneys for the Jean family said both Allison Jean, Botham’s mother, and his sister Allisa Charles-Findley testified.

After hearing evidence Monday and Wednesday​, ​grand jurors left that night without voting on whether to indict Guyger​. They returned Friday and voted. ​

Court records show the indictment was a “grand jury referral,” indicating that prosecutors sought a murder count instead of the manslaughter charge on which Guyger was arrested by Texas Rangers.

As I said earlier this fall when the case first came to light, it was obvious from the beginning that the manslaughter charge under which Guyger was arrested was only the tip of the iceberg and that there seemed to be sufficient evidence to charge her with something more serious. From the beginning, for example, it was clear that the circumstances of the shooting that former Officer Gugyer related simply did not make sense. Specifically, the claim on her part that the door to Jean’s fifth-floor apartment, which she contends she thought was her fourth-floor apartment. was ajar when she arrived at what she thought was her apartment, for example, doesn’t explain why neighbors report hearing a woman’s voice demanding to be let in prior to the shooting. Since Guyger lives alone and apparently had no visitors at the time of the shooting, why would she be demanding to be let into her own home? Additionally, the fact that nobody heard Guyger identify herself as a police officer or otherwise say anything other than demanding to be let in raises questions about her version of events, as does the fact that it simply doesn’t sound credible that Guyger, a trained police officer, would somehow mistake Jean’s fourth-floor apartment door for her fifth-floor door.

Under Texas law, murder is defined as “intentionally or knowingly caus[ing] the death of an individual.” Manslaughter, which is what Guyger is currently charged with is defined as occurring when a person “recklessly” causes death. As I learned early on in my Criminal Law class in law school, the important thing about the intent needed to charge someone with murder or any other crime involving intent is that it doesn’t necessarily require pre-planning and it isn’t something that can only exist in circumstances where there has been a considerable amount of time. Intent for criminal purposes is something that can form in an instant and simply means that one is acting consciously rather than mistakenly. As David French put it in National Review, while one can make the case that Guyger acted recklessly when she entered the wrong apartment, it seems clear that she acted intentionally when she made the choice to shoot Mr. Jean. For this reason alone, a murder charge seems to be entirely warranted based on the facts as we know them.

Notwithstanding the delay in getting the charges right, things appear to be on course for this case to be handled by the justice system in the manner that it should be handled. In the end, it may turn out that the facts adduced at trial will end up justifying a conviction for manslaughter rather than murder, but that is for the finder of fact, be it a Judge or Jury, to determine. Additionally, Guyger is entitled to the same presumption of innocence before the verdict that every other criminal defendant receives. Under Texas law, a conviction of murder carries with it the potential maximum sentence of life in prison whereas the manslaughter charge that had been previously pending carried a maximum of twenty years in prison. We’ll find out at some point in the next year or so which way things go for Guyger, but at the very least it is good to see that the system more or less worked in this case. Too often, that’s not the case when it comes to police-involved homicides.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Race and Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    If the door was “slightly ajar,” then why did she try to unlock it?

    Additionally, people who live in the building have said that the apartment doors shut automatically.

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  2. James Pearce says:

    This makes, well, some sense:

    “I’m not surprised that there was an indictment returned, due to what I perceived to be a tremendous amount of outside political pressure, a tremendous outpouring of vindictive emotion towards my client, and actual emotion that I believe was injected into the grand jury process,” Mr. Rogers said in an interview.

    The more this became about the “white cop who shot the black man,” it was clear this was going to be part of a crusade, putting the fairness of the whole thing into jeopardy.

    This, however, is absurd:

    “I believe it was reasonable for her to believe that she was being threatened with an intruder in her home and therefore she acted in self-defense,” he said. “The law justifies her actions.”

    Killing a dude because you’re mistaken is NOT self-defense. Now if Jean had killed Guyger…

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  3. Slugger says:

    @James Pearce: I am not sure that some pressure on the prosecutors is unwarranted. Prosecutors work closely with police officers, and a certain amount of friendly feelings are inevitable. Our ideal of justice wears a blindfold, but like all ideals our systems fall a little short. Law enforcement is often a very difficult task, and political considerations are real. We lay citizens should keep an eye on these processes.
    I agree with your final thoughts. There are a few specific justifications for deadly violence. “Oops” aint one of them.

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  4. Gustopher says:

    I can totally believe that she went to the wrong apartment — a lot of apartment buildings look the same on every floor, and I’ve had similar stupid brain freezes where I don’t notice obvious clues. I live in a group of identical row houses, and have gone to the wrong one while preoccupied.

    Yes, I am that stupid.

    It’s the rest of her story that makes no sense. And the reports of pounding on the door. And the fact that she should have recognized the complete lack of her decor. And the the fact that she has training in how and when to use a gun.

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  5. Scott says:

    The danger of going for a murder charge rather than a manslaughter charge is that it is much harder to prove murder and therefore risk a not guilty plea. For the prosecutors to push the grand jury to go for murder because it is politically expedient could result in a worse result than a more easily provable manslaughter charge.

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  6. James Pearce says:

    @Slugger:

    I am not sure that some pressure on the prosecutors is unwarranted

    Depends, I guess.

    Warranted pressure: “Prosecute her for mistakenly killing her neighbor.”

    Unwarranted: “Prosecute her because she’s a white cop who killed a black man and white cops get away with killing black men all the time.”

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  7. Kathy says:

    @Gustopher:

    I can totally believe that she went to the wrong apartment

    So can I. One time, leaving a friend’s house, I got into someone else’s car using my own key to unlock it. It was the same make, model, and color, parked about two spaces ahead of mine.

    There’s also something wrong, or there should be, about a cop shooting a burglary suspect dead, rather than trying to apprehend them.

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  8. Phillip says:

    @Kathy:

    There’s also something wrong, or there should be, about a cop shooting a burglary suspect dead, rather than trying to apprehend them.

    The fact that she chose to enter an apartment that 1. she (claims she) thought was hers and 2. made no attempt to call for backup should be plenty to undermine her story, never mind the multiple witnesses who heard her banging and demanding. I can’t imagine that her actions (as she has described them) are even remotely in line with her police training. Even if you believe her version of the events in their entirety, you cannot believe that she intended anything else but killing the person within.

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  9. dazedandconfused says:

    We must remember everybody’s stories are coming to us through the hearsay, which may or may not stand up in court. For all we know those reports of demanding to be let in will change. Seems quite likely to me a skilled cross examiner can get those reports of specific demands to be let in modified to barely intelligible shouts. I think it likely she yelled some stuff before entering, and being convinced she was entering her own apartment, what she would have said would have confused the occupant.

    If I had to bet they won’t convince the jury on motive and she will be convicted of manslaughter….and will serve time for it, whether it goes to trial or is plead out.

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  10. Kathy says:

    @Phillip:

    Even if you believe her version of the events in their entirety, you cannot believe that she intended anything else but killing the person within.

    Absolutely.

    Look, one time I was with a group of friends and we arrived to find the door ajar at the house of one of them, all lights off. We didn’t go in, we went to look for a cop. The assumption being an intruder might be inside (there wasn’t one).

    I can see a cop going in, suspecting someone’s inside. Sure. but then the intention would be to apprehend the perpetrator, not to shoot them dead. And she should have called for backup, by dialing 911 on her phone if she didn’t have her radio with her.

    Of course her version makes no sense, especially for a cop.

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  11. Slugger says:

    @James Pearce: I largely agree with you. Clearly, we don’t want prosecutions to be totally dependent on public passions; it would give a “legal” inprimatur to the impulses of the mob. On the other hand, there does seem to be excessive use of force by cops that disproportionately strikes Black people. The proper balance is hard to find, but I do continue to think that we as a society should strive for it. It requires vigilance on the part of us citizens. I do think that the police deserve respect, but this respect must be tempered by clear eyed attention.

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  12. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Gustopher: Sadly, a fair number of police officers that I have known and read accounts of in newspapers seem to believe that when and how to use a gun is “whenever and however I damn well please.” They are a minority, to be sure, but not enough of one.

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  13. Lounsbury says:

    @Gustopher: Quite. I have in my own city apartment block gotten off on the wrong floor and fumbled with keys (why the bloody hell are you not working you damn keys) even to the point of reaching to ring the bell at the wrong door (right place, wrong floor). But realization dawns, unless one is staggering drunk, after a few moments.

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  14. de stijl says:

    I noticed one common element in all of the anecdotal me also stories: no one got shot dead in their own apartment in any of these “oops” moments.

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  15. de stijl says:

    Imagine this exact same scenario with a role reversal and Jean shot and killed Guyger in her own apartment. Would you react differently?

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  16. Sleeping Dog says:

    The investigation that lead to the Grand Jury indictment was conducted by the Texas Rangers and not the Dallas PD. It is not unreasonable to ask if in the aftermath of the killing, the Dallas PD, glossed over the evidence to protect a peer.

    That the district attorney sought a murder indictment from the grand jury, rather than a probable slam dunk manslaughter indictment raises an interesting question as to what evidence did the Rangers uncover. Stay tuned for an interesting trial.

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  17. dazedandconfused says:

    @Kathy:

    I think it wrong but believe her. Cops are trained to fight, and I believe there is a flaw in most police training these days. The use of video scenarios to train officers in which all but no-chance situation are presented. The casual pull over of a speeder who whips out a gun at the last moment and shoots you. At a scene of a fight when someone right next you you does likewise. It encourages cops to believe they must react instantly by shooting first, and fosters a feeling that force protection (military doctrine) comes first, serving the public second.

    There has been a large infux of combat vets in our police depts over the last few decades. Large city academies are less prone to these influences, they have a long history of dealing with civil unrest in which hard lessons were learned about the costs of excessive force and the need for public trust to be effective. But only a small portion of officers these days attend such dedicated academies. Only large cities can afford to run their own. Most cops graduate from the generic academies, and that kind of training all but guarantees a shot of adrenalin in “close encounters”. They have been taught by people trained by the military to react in a military way.

    In war collateral damage is accepted. Police work in a non-police state? Not so much.

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