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Fate of Officer Who Killed Botham Jean Will Come Down to Two Juries

Amber Renee Guyger's mugshot.
Amber Renee Guyger's mugshot.
Kaufman County

Details about exactly what happened the night Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger killed Botham Jean are going to be kept out of the public eye as Dallas County prosecutors continue to investigate, District Attorney Faith Johnson said Monday. The more information that gets out during the investigation, Johnson said, the greater the likelihood Guyger's case gets moved out of Dallas County because of pretrial publicity, a change of venue Johnson doesn't want to happen.

"If the people of Dallas County have already made up their minds based on what they heard, it'll be very hard to get a fair jury," Johnson said.

Dallas police officers ran to the South Side Flats on the 1200 block of S. Lamar Street after off-duty Dallas police officer Amber Guyger entered the wrong apartment after completing a 12-hour shift. Guyger was charged with manslaughter after firing two shots that killed 26-year-old Botham Shem Jean. She presumably walked into Jean's apartment having mistaken it for her own.
Dallas police officers ran to the South Side Flats on the 1200 block of S. Lamar Street after off-duty Dallas police officer Amber Guyger entered the wrong apartment after completing a 12-hour shift. Guyger was charged with manslaughter after firing two shots that killed 26-year-old Botham Shem Jean. She presumably walked into Jean's apartment having mistaken it for her own.
Nicholas Bostick

Guyger entered Jean's apartment Thursday night after completing her shift at DPD's Southeast Patrol Division. Shortly afterward, she shot and killed Jean. According to Guyger's arrest warrant affidavit, she lived in Apartment 1378 of the South Side Flats complex near Dallas Police Department headquarters in the Cedars. Jean lived in Apartment 1478, directly above Guyger's.

After her shift ended Thursday, Guyger told police, she drove home and parked on the fourth floor of the apartment complex's garage. From there, she unwittingly entered the fourth-floor hallway — which is largely identical to the hallway below it, according to the affidavit — and headed to Jean's apartment. She put her key in the lock, and the door, which was slightly ajar, opened.

The officer walked into the dark apartment and saw Jean. Believing he was a burglar, Guyger said, she "gave [Jean] verbal commands," which he ignored. Guyger then shot at Jean twice, hitting him once in the chest.

Guyger then rushed to give Jean CPR and called 911. Only after calling 911 did she turn on the lights and realize she wasn't in her apartment, according to the affidavit.

An earlier affidavit filed by DPD to get a search warrant for Jean's apartment tells a different version of the story. According to that affidavit, Jean confronted the officer at his apartment's door as she tried to get in. A neighbor then "heard an exchange of words, immediately followed by at least two gunshots."

After the arrest warrant affidavit's release Monday, Lee Merritt, Benjamin Crump and Daryl Washington, three attorneys representing the Jean family, said that witnesses they'd provided to the district attorney contradicted Guyger's story.

"We have independent witnesses who have come forward to offer evidence that we believe refutes the claim that the door was propped open,” Merritt said. “In fact, the evidence that they’ve provided seems to indicate that the door would’ve been closed at that time that Officer Guyger approached the door. ... The witnesses that we’ve spoken to, and it’s been at least two, [say] that they heard knocking down the hallway followed by a woman’s voice that they believe to be Officer Guyger’s saying ‘Let me in. Let me in,’ followed a series of knocking, followed by ‘Let me in.’”

Guyger's story, Merritt claimed, is meant to limit her liability as much as possible.

“What we are suggesting is that the version of events being offered is being offered in order to mitigate any liability,” Merritt said. “We don’t actually know happened. We still don’t have all the evidence. We know that the evidence that exists contradicts this version of events that seems to offer as little culpability for this officer as possible.”

Police showed up at Jean's apartment about four minutes after Guyger called 911, according to Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall. They asked Guyger a couple of questions, drew her blood for alcohol and drug testing and let her leave, following procedures typically used when police shoot someone while on duty. Paramedics took Jean to Baylor University Medical Center, where he died. 

Demonstrators at a vigil for Botham Jean on Friday night.EXPAND
Demonstrators at a vigil for Botham Jean on Friday night.
Brian Maschino

Hall provided the first major update of the shooting investigation around lunchtime Friday. The chief said she'd requested a manslaughter warrant for Guyger.

"We thought we were investigating an officer-involved shooting, and we handled it accordingly," Hall said of why Guyger was initially allowed to leave.

Once it became apparent that Guyger was off duty, DPD stopped treating it under its officer-involved shooting rules, leading Hall to request a warrant.

"Right now, there are more questions than we have answers," Hall said.

Those questions deepened overnight Friday and into Saturday. Updates on the shooting were scarce; Guyger remained free and, to that point, unnamed.

Saturday morning, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings spoke publicly about the shooting for the first time.

“Botham Jean was exactly the sort of citizen we want to have in the city of Dallas,” Rawlings said. “A believer in his church, a neighbor to his friends. A man that always had a smile on his face. And for that reason, this is a terrible, terrible thing that has happened. Not only has he lost his life, but we’ve lost a potential leader for this city.”

Shortly after Rawlings' comments, Hall said no warrant had been issued for Guyger.

"We were in the process of obtaining a warrant for the officer when we called the Texas Rangers in," Hall said. "We have since turned that investigation over to the Texas Rangers because we truly want to be transparent."

Having been handed the reins to the investigation, the Rangers interviewed the officer, Hall said.

"Based on that interview, they asked us to hold off on the warrant until they had an opportunity to investigate some of the information that was provided during that interview," Hall said.

Hall didn't elaborate on what that information might have been and said she couldn't provide any additional details about the circumstances that led up to the shooting, or any potential relationship between Jean and Guyger.

"We are totally committed to getting to the bottom of this situation," Hall said. "This is a tragedy. Regardless of the circumstances, this is a tragedy on both sides."

Saturday night, after Guyger's identity had been floating around on social media for the better part of a day, DPD finally released her name to the public. 

Botham Shem Jean speaks at his alma mater, Harding University.
Botham Shem Jean speaks at his alma mater, Harding University.
courtesy Harding University

Saturday evening and throughout the day Sunday, Merritt pushed for Guyger's arrest. Sunday night he provided Johnson with a new witness in the case, Merritt announced at a press conference. That witness, Merritt said then, provided information to Johnson counter to Guyger's version of what happened.

Guyger was arrested on a manslaughter charge Sunday night in Kaufman County. She was booked into Kaufman County jail and released about an hour later on $300,000 bond.

Despite the officer's arrest, Jean's family isn't happy with the answers it's received from the agencies investigating the shooting.

“We are not satisfied that we have all the answers, and the number one answer that I want is, What happened?" Jean's mother, Allison Jean, said. "I have asked too many questions, and I’ve been told that there are no answers yet. I’m looking forward to all of 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 justice for Botham.”

What justice looks like as the case progresses through Dallas County's legal system depends on a number of factors, starting with the grand jury that will hear the case, likely sometime later this year. After hearing the final findings of the DA's investigation, a grand jury will decide whether to indict Guyger. As they make their decision, Johnson made clear Monday, they won't be limited by the charges filed against Guyger by the Texas Rangers. Depending on how they view the facts, they could return no indictment or one for murder, manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide. Dallas defense attorney Pete Schulte, a former DeSoto cop and Dallas County prosecutor, believes the grand jury will return a murder indictment.

"Here's the deal. The arrest warrant that [the Rangers] got yesterday, clearly, was not for manslaughter. That affidavit was a murder affidavit. That affidavit was for a murder warrant, not manslaughter, but it was to appease the public, I think, and it really means nothing, except that Officer Guyger now has bond conditions that she has to live up to," Schulte said. "This whole case is going to come down to the grand jury, and the grand jury's not stuck on sitting on manslaughter. ... I expect that they'll do murder. The grand jury doesn't have to consider defenses."

For the grand jury to indict on a manslaughter charge, Schulte said, it would have to find that Guyger did something reckless that led to Jean's death, like shooting through the apartment door without knowing if Jean were on the other side. Because she shot at Jean on purpose, even by her own admission, it's likely that Guyger will either be convicted of murder or nothing at all, Schulte said.

"She clearly, based on what we do know, has the defense of what we call mistake-of-fact," Schulte said. "If she can show to a jury that her mistake-of-fact led to this and the jury finds that it was reasonable, then she's entitled to an acquittal, because our criminal laws don't want to criminalize accidents. That's for the civil courts."

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If a jury believes that Guyger reasonably thought she was in her own apartment when she shot Jean, she's covered by Texas' castle law, which allows Texas residents to shoot intruders in their homes on sight, without criminal repercussions.

"[Texas residents] don't have to wait to be threatened. They don't have to have the intruder show a gun or to threaten harm to them," Schulte said. "It's their castle. They can fire and ask questions later. Not just because she's a cop. It's anybody. The questions comes down to when the facts aren't what they're perceived to be. Then you have to look at 'Was the mistake-of-fact reasonable given the circumstances?' That's going to be the crux of the trial." 

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