Police officer who broke into black neighbour’s home and shot him dead says he didn’t obey 'verbal command'

Lawyer of victim's family challenges key details of officer's 'extremely bizarre and self-serving' account

Sarah Mervosh,Matthew Haag
Tuesday 11 September 2018 09:16 BST
Dallas PD Chief Hall speaks about the officer who shot and killed a man after she tried to enter the wrong apartment

A Dallas police officer who fatally shot her neighbour in his apartment, claiming she mistook the unit for her own, told officials that the door was already ajar when she entered and that she shot him after he ignored verbal commands, according to court records released on Monday.

The officer, Amber R Guyger, 30, who has been charged with manslaughter, could face additional charges in a case that has led to accusations that the officer received preferential treatment and debate about whether race might have played a role in the deadly encounter between a white police officer and a black man in his home.

On Monday, Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson insisted that the investigation into the death of the neighbour, Botham Shem Jean, 26, had not ended and that her office could seek charges “including anything from murder to manslaughter.”

“We’ll present a thorough case to the grand jury so that a right decision can be made,” Ms Johnson said at a news conference.

Dallas has been gripped by rising tensions since Thursday night, when, police said, Ms Guyger returned to her apartment complex after a shift in full uniform at about 10pm Dallas time and shot Jean in his home.

Ms Guyger, who lives in a unit directly underneath Jean’s, parked her car on the wrong floor of the parking garage and walked to what she thought was her apartment, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. She inserted her electronic key into the door, which was already ajar. Inside the dark apartment, she saw a “large silhouette” that she believed to be a burglar, the affidavit said.

She gave “verbal commands” before firing her weapon twice, striking him once in the chest, officials said. The affidavit did not detail the nature of her commands, or how much time passed before shots were fired.

While on the phone with 911, Ms Guyger turned on the lights and realised she was in the wrong apartment, according to the affidavit.

It is unclear why Jean’s door may have been ajar. Officials asked permission to examine Jean’s cell-phone and laptop to see whether he might have been expecting a visitor, according to a search warrant affidavit.

Officials took a blood sample from Ms Guyger to test for drugs and alcohol, but the results have not been released.

Lee Merritt, a lawyer for Jean’s family, challenged several aspects of the officer’s account, including her claim that the door was ajar. He said witnesses had told the district attorney’s office that they heard banging on the door and a woman’s voice saying, “Let me in.”

Even if Ms Guyger did mistake the apartment — which has a distinctive red doormat outside — for her own, he said, there is no indication that Jean acted aggressively to make the officer fear for her life.

“It would be irresponsible to rely on this extremely bizarre, self-serving affidavit,” said Mr Merritt, who has also questioned why officials did not immediately arrest Ms Guyger.

Questions about how the case was being handled only intensified after Ms Guyger was allowed to turn herself in to officials in Kaufman County, a mostly rural county southeast of Dallas, and be booked at a jail farther away.

“We don’t want it lost on anyone that, had this been a regular citizen, she would have never left the crime scene,” Mr Merritt said.

On Monday, Ms Johnson, the district attorney, hinted at a split over the handling of the case between her office and the Texas Rangers, the state’s top law enforcement agency. The Dallas Police Department asked the Texas Rangers on Friday to investigate the shooting. Ms Johnson said the Texas Rangers coordinated the booking of Ms Guyger and recommended the charge of manslaughter.

Ms Johnson said she had a “spirited debate” with Texas Rangers investigators on Sunday before they sought an arrest warrant.

“We had our views, and at the end of that conversation, the Texas Rangers made the decision that it would be manslaughter,” she said. “I’m not challenging them on their viewpoint, and they did a great job.”

Ms Johnson said that her office continued to collect evidence in the case. She declined to describe that information or to provide a timeline for when the findings could be presented to a grand jury.

A spokesman for the Texas Rangers declined to comment on Monday beyond referring to a statement the agency released on Sunday about the officer’s arrest.

Ms Guyger, a member of the Dallas Police Department for four years and assigned to the patrol division, was involved in a shooting in 2017. She shot a man in the stomach who had grabbed her police Taser during a confrontation. The man survived, and she was not indicted in that incident, The Dallas Morning News reported.

At the news conference on Monday, Mayor Mike Rawlings of Dallas denounced misinformation that had spread on social media about the case, including the possibility that Jean and Ms Guyger were acquainted.

Members of Jean’s family, including his mother, Allison Jean, a former senior government official in St. Lucia, where her son was born and grew up, also attended the news conference. Botham Jean moved to Dallas after college in 2016 and worked for the auditing firm PwC, formerly known as PricewaterhouseCoopers.

“Botham was a model citizen,” Mr Rawlings said on Monday. “When you lose someone like that in this way, we mourn and our heart breaks with that family.”

The New York Times

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