Case against officer who killed neighbor to go to grand jury
DALLAS (AP) — The case against a white Dallas police officer who shot and killed a black neighbor will be presented to a grand jury, which could decide on more serious charges than manslaughter, the district attorney said Monday as an affidavit provided a fuller description of the officer’s account.
Lawyers for the victim’s family questioned why it took three days for Amber Guyger to be charged and why she was so quick to use deadly force in her encounter with 26-year-old Botham Jean, who lived in the apartment directly above hers. She told authorities she mistook the neighbor’s unit for her own.
An arrest affidavit prepared by a Texas Ranger was released Monday, providing a narrative of what happened. It appeared to be based almost entirely on the officer’s account.
Guyger told investigators that she had just ended a 15-hour shift Thursday when she returned in uniform to the South Side Flats apartment complex. She parked on the fourth floor, instead of the third, where she lived, according to the affidavit, possibly suggesting that she was confused or disoriented.
When she put her key in the apartment door, which was unlocked and slightly ajar, it opened, the affidavit said. Inside, the lights were off, and she saw a figure in the darkness that cast a large silhouette across the room, according to the officer’s account.
The officer told police that she concluded her apartment was being burglarized and gave verbal commands to the figure, which ignored them. She then drew her weapon and fired twice, the affidavit said.
She called 911 and, when asked where she was, returned to the front door to see she was in the wrong unit, according to the affidavit.
Authorities have not released any 911 tapes related to the shooting.
The Dallas County medical examiner’s office said Jean died of a gunshot wound to the chest. His death was ruled a homicide. The officer was arrested Sunday night and booked into jail in neighboring Kaufman County before being released on bond.
Attorneys for Jean’s family said the affidavit contradicts neighbors’ accounts of what happened. One of the lawyers, Benjamin Crump, said the affidavit “is very self-serving.” The other, Lee Merritt, said the document is an attempt to “condone what happened, give her a break.”
Merritt said at a news conference Monday evening that two independent witnesses have told him they heard knocking on the door in the hallway before the shooting.
He said one witness reported hearing a woman’s voice saying, “Let me in! Let me in!” Then they heard gunshots, after which one witness said she heard a man’s voice say, “Oh my God! Why did you do that?”
Merritt said he believes those were Jean’s last words.
As for the contention that Jean left his front door ajar, Merritt said Jean was a “meticulous individual” who “makes it a point to close the door behind him.”
“That means that when he comes into a room, he makes it a point to close the door behind him. He hangs his keys on the hook. He put everything in a particular place,” Merritt said.
He also said Jean had a red doormat outside his apartment door. “In fact, to ensure no one mistook his apartment the way this officer is claiming in this case, he went out and bought the biggest, brightest red rug and placed it right there at his doorstep,” Merritt said.
Merritt has represented relatives of an unarmed black teenager who was shot in the back by a white police officer in June while fleeing a traffic stop near Pittsburgh.
Crump is best known for representing the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. Martin was the black 17-year-old who was fatally shot in 2012 by George Zimmerman, a Hispanic man who was his Orlando, Florida, area neighborhood’s watch captain. Brown, who was 18, was shot to death in 2014 by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
“Black people in America have been killed by police in some of the most unbelievable manners,” Crump said at a news conference earlier Monday, citing “driving while black in our cars” and “walking while black in our neighborhoods.”
Now, he said, “we are being killed living while black when we are in our apartments.”
Protesters gathered at police headquarters Monday night in Dallas to speak out against the shooting of Jean, The Dallas Morning News reported. Several dozen protesters blocked traffic as they marched about half a mile from the headquarters. Police, some on horseback, followed and officers fired pepper balls to help control the crowd at one point.
When asked why Guyger was allowed to surrender somewhere other than Dallas County’s jail, Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson said the decision was made by the Texas Rangers, who are also investigating. She emphasized, though, that her office will conduct an investigation into the shooting as well.
“We are committed to making certain that we get to the bottom of (it),” Johnson said.
On the day after the shooting, Police Chief U. Renee Hall said her department was seeking manslaughter charges against Guyger, a four-year veteran of the police force. But Hall said Saturday that the Texas Rangers asked her department to hold off because they had learned new information and wanted to investigate further before a warrant was issued.
The district attorney will also have the option of presenting more serious charges to the grand jury.
It was not clear who, if anyone, had been hired to represent the officer. Online court documents that would normally list a defendant’s attorney were not yet available.
Guyger’s blood was drawn at the scene to be tested for alcohol and drugs, Hall said, but authorities have not released results.
Jean grew up in the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia before attending college in Arkansas. He graduated in 2016 from Harding University, where he often led campus religious services as a student. He had worked for accounting firm PwC since graduating.
Jean wasn’t the first person shot by Guyger. She shot a man named Uvaldo Perez on May 12, 2017, while on duty.
According to an affidavit filed against Perez, police were looking for a suspect when Guyger and another officer were called to assist a third officer. Perez got out of a car and became combative with Guyger and another officer. A struggle began and Guyger fired her Taser at Perez, who then wrested it away from her. She then drew her gun and fired, wounding Perez in the abdomen.
Sgt. Michael Mata, president of Dallas’ largest police union, the Dallas Police Association, said Guyger was a respected officer and well known to investigative units in the department because she worked on a high-risk team tasked with arresting some of the most violent offenders. On the day of the shooting, Guyger’s unit had arrested multiple suspects for armed robbery, he said.
Mata called for Guyger to have fair treatment, but also said she should answer for her actions.
Associated Press writers Terry Wallace and David Warren in Dallas and Ken Miller in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.