Botham Jean's Family Sues Dallas in Federal Court

Botham Shem Jean speaks at his alma mater, Harding University.
Botham Shem Jean speaks at his alma mater, Harding University.
courtesy Harding University
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The family of Botham Jean, the 26-year-old accountant shot and killed in his own apartment by an off-duty Dallas police officer on Sept. 6, sued the city in federal court late Friday.

The suit alleges that Amber Guyger, the police officer who shot Jean, used excessive force and violated Jean's civil rights when she shot him in the chest. Guyger, who has been charged with manslaughter and released on bail, told investigators that she believed Jean's apartment was her own and that Jean was an intruder.

The story of Jean's death told by the lawsuit doesn't deviate significantly from the official account that has emerged. After finishing her shift with the Dallas Police Department, the suit says, Guyger parked her car on the fourth floor of her apartment complex, one floor above the floor on which she lived. After getting out of the car, she walked to the apartment directly above her own, apparently failing to notice the door decorations and floor mats that were different from those on her floor.

When she got to the door, according to the suit, she put her key in the lock and it opened. Jean was on his couch, watching TV. Guyger began shouting commands at Jean, then shot him when he pulled himself up from the couch.

Jean's attorneys argue Guyger's failure to cut off the chain of events that led to the shooting at several points — when she should've noticed she was not on her floor, for instance, or when she barged into an apartment that she says had a door that was ajar, rather than calling for backup — was unreasonable and stemmed in part from DPD's failure to train her appropriately.

"Officer Guyger opened Jean's apartment door and immediately drew her weapon without an evaluation of what occurred or what was transpiring. She simply opened fire without having any knowledge of the true situation," the suit says. "Essentially, Officer Guyger was ill-trained, and as a result, defaulted to the defective DPD policy: to use deadly force even when there exist no immediate threat of harm to themselves or others."

The suit claims that Guyger's previous shooting of a drug suspect when he grabbed her Taser and the officer's Pinterest account, which features many pro-cop, anti-civilian images, "demonstrates that she is a dangerous individual with highly violent and anti-social propensities."  

Dallas police were correct, the suit says, when they initially treated Jean's killing as an officer-involved shooting, because Guyger was "acting in the scope of her employment as agent, servant and employee of the DPD, a part of Defendant, the City of Dallas within its executive branch and were performing a governmental function."

That could be a tough idea to prove, according to attorneys who talked to the Observer in September, but the Jeans' attorney will have to do so if they want Dallas to be held liable for Botham Jean's death.

Interim Dallas City Attorney Chris Casto declined to comment when reached by the Observer on Friday afternoon.

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