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Dallas police officer arrested days after she killed a man in his apartment

September 10, 2018 at 9:21 AM

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Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was arrested Sept. 9 and charged with manslaughter in the fatal shooting of a neighbor, Botham Shem Jean. Authorities said Guyger mistook Jean’s apartment for her own and killed him. (Reuters)

A Dallas police officer who authorities said entered an apartment she thought was hers and killed a young man has been arrested on a manslaughter charge.

Amber Guyger, 30, was taken into custody Sunday evening amid intensifying calls for her arrest and accusations that police are showing deferential treatment to one of their own. The shooting death of Botham Shem Jean, 26, also has become a rallying cry for advocates against police brutality — although much is still unknown about the circumstances surrounding his death.

Jean was shot Thursday night in his apartment building near downtown Dallas. Guyger, still in uniform after working a shift, went inside Jean's apartment, thinking it was hers, police said. Guyger fired her service weapon and struck Jean, her neighbor. She called 911, and Jean died at a hospital. A video taken from outside the building shows the officer on her phone, pacing back and forth outside the apartment and crying. Paramedics were later seen moving a man on a gurney and performing CPR on him.

Despite the arrest, Jean's mother, Allison Jean, said several questions about her son's death remain unanswered.

“The number one answer that I want is, ‘What happened?’” Allison Jean told reporters Monday. “I have asked too many questions, and I've been told that there are no answers yet. I'm looking forward to the powers that be to come up with the answers to make me more satisfied that they are doing what is in the best interest of getting justice for Botham.”

Allison Jean stood in the middle of her two other children, a son and a daughter, as she spoke to reporters — her way of representing Botham, her middle child.

Allison Jean embraces her son's friends after a prayer vigil for Botham Shem Jean at the Dallas West Church of Christ on Saturday. He was shot by a police officer in his apartment on Thursday night. (Shaban Athuman/Dallas Morning News/AP)

Officials were still tight-lipped Monday about what happened inside Jean's apartment, what the officer's physical and mental states were at the time, whether she was under the influence of a controlled substance, why she thought Jean's apartment was hers, and why a trained officer seemed so quick to use deadly force. It also is still unclear why investigators held off for three days before charging Guyger with manslaughter.

Dallas Police Chief Reneé Hall had said earlier that her office was in the process of obtaining an arrest warrant but that it was postponed after the Texas Ranger Division, a separate agency that took over the case, asked for more time. Hall said investigators had interviewed Guyger and sought more time to look into the information she gave them.

Things changed Sunday evening, when Guyger turned herself in at Kaufman County jail, just outside Dallas.

Around that time, Lee Merritt, a Dallas civil rights lawyer who represents Jean's family, told reporters that his law firm had just presented a witness and video evidence to the district attorney's office that “could change the course of the investigation” and lead to the officer's arrest.

Merritt did not elaborate, citing the pending investigation.

Related: A police officer walked into a man’s home — mistaking it for her own — and killed him, police say

A grand jury will ultimately decide on the final charges against Guyger. It could look at charges such as murder, a first-degree felony, or the lesser charge of manslaughter, a second-degree felony.

Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson vowed thoroughness and fairness as her office prepares to present the case to the grand jury.

“We're going to unravel whatever we need to unravel. We're going to unturn whatever we need to unturn. And we are going to present a full case to the grand jury,” Johnson told reporters.

Guyger, who has been with the police department for four years and is now on administrative leave, has since been freed on a $300,000 bail. The Dallas Morning News reported that her attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The delay in the officer's arrest frustrated Jean's family members, who arrived in Dallas from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, where Jean was born. It also raised questions about whether investigators were showing deferential treatment to the officer.

“In any normal case where there's probable cause . . . you make an arrest,” Merritt told The Washington Post earlier Sunday, before Guyger was arrested. “When law enforcement [is under investigation], for some reason, we don't use the normal protocol in dealing with criminal activity.”

Merritt said Jean and the officer did not know each other. The officer's apartment was directly below Jean's, he said.

Civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt talks to reporters after a prayer vigil for Botham Shem Jean on Saturday in Dallas. (Shaban Athuman/Dallas Morning News/AP)

A police spokeswoman referred questions to the Texas Ranger Division. The Texas Department of Public Safety, which oversees the rangers, declined to comment beyond a brief news release announcing Guyger's arrest. The district attorney's office also has not responded to a request for comment.

Jean's death renewed calls for policing reform and places the national spotlight back on a police department that, just two years ago, lost five of its officers in a shooting. A gunman who “said he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers,” opened fire in July 2016 in the middle of what had otherwise been a peaceful protest of police shootings.

During a criminal justice panel Saturday, Hall said she did not know whether race was a factor in Jean's death and asked the public for patience as investigators do their work. Jean was black, and Guyger is white.

“There is so much rhetoric surrounding this incident. We have a lot of questions that are unanswered,” Hall said. “Allow us to get to the bottom of those answers that we could give to you, and then let's have a discussion.”

Merritt, who also represents the family of Antwon Rose II, an unarmed teenager who was shot by an East Pittsburgh police officer, said race and police officers' use of force are deeply intertwined in this country. On the night of the shooting, Guyger's apartment key was found in Jean's door, suggesting that she had tried to open it, Merritt said. Seeing a black man inside an apartment she thought was hers influenced her actions, Merritt concluded.

Related: Baltimore police officer resigns after viral video of him pummeling a man who was not fighting back

“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,” he said.

Jean moved from St. Lucia to Arkansas and later became a naturalized U.S. citizen, Merritt said. He graduated in 2016 from Harding University, a private Christian school in Searcy, Ark., where he was a member of an a cappella group that performs spiritual songs for churches. Jean frequently led singing at the university chapel and during campus events.

“The entire Harding family grieves today for the loss of Botham Jean, who has meant so very much to us,” university officials said.

Bruce McLarty, president of the university, said he once asked Jean to lead the singing of an unfamiliar old hymn. Jean was eager to sing it, even though he had not heard of the song. The day he was to perform it, McLarty recalled, Jean called his grandmother in St. Lucia, and she taught him the song over the phone.

"Allison did an incredible job of raising her son,” St. Lucia Prime Minister Allen Chastanet told reporters. “We at St. Lucia are extremely proud of Botham."

Jean was an accountant at the Dallas office of PricewaterhouseCoopers, an international company that does assurance, tax and advisory work for firms around the world.

“This is a terrible tragedy,” the company said in a statement. “Botham Jean was a member of the PwC family in our Dallas office, and we are simply heartbroken to hear of his death.”

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings described Jean as a model citizen. In a statement Sunday, he thanked the Texas Rangers and asked that people “continue to pray for the family of Botham Jean tonight and in the weeks and months ahead.”

Lindsey Bever and Taylor Telford contributed to this report.

Read more:

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A man was shot and killed by police. A jury gave his family $4.

Five Dallas police officers were killed by a lone attacker, authorities say


Kristine Phillips covers national and breaking news for The Washington Post. She previously covered criminal justice, courts and legal affairs at the Indianapolis Star.

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