Dallas Police Officer Faces Manslaughter for Shooting Man in Wrong Apartment
[Post updated September 2019] A five year veteran of the Dallas Police Department shot and killed a young man in an apartment complex. Police believe the officer went home after her shift ended and entered the wrong apartment. When she found a man in the apartment that she allegedly thought was her apartment, a deadly confrontation ensued. This case leaves us with far more questions than answers.
Why did the officer enter the wrong apartment?
How did she get in?
Did she know the victim?
Didn’t she realize immediately that the apartment was not hers?
Why did she resort to using deadly force?
Hopefully we can supplement this story as more details emerge. Here is what we know today.
We know the officer was a five year veteran of the Dallas Police Department and lived at the same apartment complex as the victim. Although the officer has not yet been named, the victim has been identified as Botham Jean. Mr. Jean is a graduate of Harding University in Arkansas and was recently hired by a large accounting firm, PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
Although the Dallas Police say they won’t release the officer’s name until a warrant is issued for her arrest, social media is identifying her as Amber Guyer. We have no official confirmation on this. Some social media reports also say that she had some past relationship or dealings with Botham Jean.
Press reports say that the officer was white and the victim black but thus far there is no indication that race was a factor. There is also no indication that Mr. Jean was engaged in any criminal behavior. From all public and police accounts, he was in his own apartment when the unnamed officer entered and shot him.
The Dallas Morning News says that police are obtaining a warrant to charge the officer with manslaughter. Under Texas law, manslaughter is defined as “recklessly” causing the death of an individual. The charge carries a sentence of 2 to 20 years. [Murder in Texas requires a finding that the wrongdoer intentionally and knowingly caused the death of another.]
Although police say they are charging the officer with manslaughter, prosecutors or a Grand Jury could amend the charges as new evidence develops. Because the case involves a Dallas police officer, Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall has asked the Texas Rangers to investigate the shooting. A department spokesperson also said that toxicology tests on the officer have been ordered.
After the shooting, Botham Jean’s mother told NBC News, “I need to look into her eyes and ask her why she did that to my son. She took away my heart, she took away my soul, she took away everything. [He] was in no wrong place at any wrong time. He was in his sanctuary, in the place where he called home. He didn’t deserve this.”
His sister Alissa posted on Facebook, “Just last week I was thinking of what to get you for your birthday, now I have to go pick out your casket. You will always be my baby brother.”
Comments on social media almost all condemn the officer and police department.
The shooting has certainly rattled the apartment complex and the community. One resident of the complex told the Morning News, "How can you make a mistake like that, getting into someone else's apartment?" said an 80-year-old neighbor. "Don't they train police?"
“Don’t They Train Police?”
This case leaves so many unanswered questions. Assuming that this is truly a case of the officer walking into the wrong apartment, why was deadly force necessary? We hope the family and community quickly get the answers they deserve.
No matter what happens to the manslaughter case, Botham Jean’s estate is entitled to bring claims for damages. The officer, who may be spending the next 20 years in prison, is probably judgment proof. She certainly does not enough assets to pay for the damages in this case.
What does that mean for the Botham’s estate and claims for monetary damages?
We believe the Dallas Police Department shares equal responsibility for this tragedy. The legal issue will be, however, whether the officer was acting under color of law when the shooting occurred. Certainly being in uniform helps the estate’s case against the city.
Much of the civil claim will be based on the investigation by the Texas Rangers. Did the officer command Botham to surrender or try to arrest him? What words did she use? We can’t imagine that the officer simply opened the door, unholstered her weapon and opened fire without saying a single word.
Another issue will be the relationship between the two, if any.
Assuming she was acting under color of state law, the Dallas Police Department is responsible for her training and supervision. That also means they could be held responsible for her actions.
Police officers are allowed to use reasonable force to take a suspect in custody. If an officer believes – and we will suspend our disbelief for the moment of Chief Hall’s version of events – that a person is in the wrong apartment, an officer can use reasonable force to detain or arrest that person. Police officers are also allowed to use whatever force is necessary to defend themselves.
Was the force here reasonable? We certainly don’t understand how it could be. Even if the officer believed that Jean was in the wrong apartment, she wasn’t entitled to simply start blasting away.
When cops violate your civil rights by engaging in unjustified violence, brutality, or deadly force, you can seek compensation under state and federal statutes.
In most jurisdictions, a jury decides whether an officer used more force than was necessary to make an arrest or defend herself.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to Botham Jean’s family, co-workers and friends. And yes, we pray for the officer too. Although she needs to be held accountable, we hope that something good can come from this tragedy. Justice, better training, better accountability and answers to the family’s many questions.
September 2019 Update:
The criminal trial of former Dallas police officer Amber Guger has begun. On the second day of trial, prosecutors called the police officers who were the first at the scene. Body cam videos show the two officers performing CPR on the Botham. Although Guyger told investigators that she had rendered aid, it wasn't evident in the body cam footage.
What is clear on the 911 tapes is Guyger saying 19 times that she thought she entered her own apartment.
Prosecutors say that Guyger deleted texts from her phone but they were able to recover two texts to her partner. They said, "I need you hurry" and "I fucked up."
A Dallas County grand Jury indicted Guyger for murder. It appears that her defense team is setting her up for some lesser charge such as manslaughter. Much will depend on how reckless the jury believes her actions were and whether she had any criminal intent when she pulled the trigger.
Why she wasn't rendering aid to the man she claims she mistakenly shot will likely be a big factor in the jury's mind.
Two neighbors in the apartment building said they did not hear Guyger yelling any commands at Botham such as "Show me your hands."
We trust the jurors will draw the correct conclusions in the criminal case. While we have strong feelings about this case we will withhold during the trial. The decision in the criminal case should have little impact on the civil claims for monetary damages. Even in the event the jurt found Guyger not guilty of all charges, the family can still proceed on the civil claims.
Our prayers remain with Botham and his family who are present for the trial.
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About the videos: [Warning the first video contains graphic footage of Botham Jean being wheeled out of his apartment on a stretcher while first responders perform CPR. It was taken by an neighbor. The second video is a news interview of Botham’s mother]