Protesters gathered outside the Dallas Police Association building near sunset Friday, holding signs reading "Mata Gotta Go" and "Resign Mata," calling for the firing of the DPA president. The activists say Mike Mata broke police protocol after one of the department's former officers, Amber Guyger, shot and killed Botham Jean, an unarmed black man, in his own apartment, which she says she mistook for her own.
Dominique Alexander, the founder of local activist group Next Generation Action Network, which organized the demonstration, says when people start asking questions about DPD, they look to the Dallas Police Association for answers. Thus, the DPA sets the culture for the department, he says.
"The vibrations of the police start here, and that's a problem," Alexander says. "This entity has always historically fought between the community and its desire to reform the police department."
Alexander says the protesters are sending a loud indication to Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall that they want Mata gone.
Mata couldn't be reached for comment.
The night of the shooting last September, Mata visited Guyger on the scene at South Side Flats, the apartment complex in the Cedars where Jean was killed. It's alleged that Mata instructed another officer to shut off the in-car camera system of the vehicle that would transport Guyger so they could speak in private. Prosecutors in the case against Guyger argued that doing so granted Guyger special treatment.
"We understand, Mr. Mata, it is your position to protect your law enforcement officers from the community, but when your law enforcement officers are bad, it is also your responsibility to hold them accountable and protect the community from them," says Pamela L. Grayson, a local activist. "That's where Mr. Mata has failed. How do you justify breaking police protocol and turning off cameras?"
In court last week, Sgt. Breanna Valentine, the officer who shut off the in-car camera system, testified that had she known Guyger was off-duty, she would have left the camera on, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Under the department's policy, police are not prohibited from consulting a "companion" officer at the time of an officer-involved shooting. However, given that Guyger was off-duty at the time, it is not clear if this rule applies in the Jean shooting.
Dallas police officers can terminate recordings under certain circumstances. However, failing to activate a body camera or intentionally terminating a recording in order to commit a violation of department policy or law is a violation of DPD's general orders.
Officers were posted down the street from the protest. Their patrol cars were lined behind them. A helicopter circled overhead, as an American flag outside the DPA building flapped in the wind. A sign Grayson held said Mata has no integrity or concern for victims of police brutality and that he treats the association like a frat house.
Another activist, Jennifer Cortez, says she lives on the same floor at the South Side Flats where Jean was killed. She walked from her apartment to the DPA building for the protest. She says if Guyger had entered her apartment that night, there likely would not be a case because she is not a black man.
"What happened when she walked into that room was she saw a black man," Cortez says. "Because I'm not a black man, I probably wouldn't have been shot."
Cortez condemned Mata for having a Hispanic surname and being on the wrong side of justice.
"If we as brown and black people don't start standing together, ain't nothing gonna happen," Cortez says. "Shame on [Mata] for having a Hispanic surname and doing this stuff because this is why our communities can't trust each other."
Alexander says the DPA has always tried to divide the narrative of police brutality by saying people should back the blue.
"I believe we all back the damn blue when we pay our tax dollars. That's not the question here," he says. "What we're saying is that we're tired of you killing us in our communities, we're tired of you putting a target on our black and brown bodies, we're tired of people like Tony Timpa dying and families having to ask the question 'Why?'"
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Changa Higgins, another activist at the protest, thanked Mata.
"Why am I thanking Mike Mata? Because, basically, during this case, he exposed what we've been saying about his ass all along," Higgins says. "The DPA has too much power in policing in this city."
The next step for the protesters, Alexander says, is to walk into DPD headquarters this week and file a formal complaint against Mata.
"We're gonna make sure they know this is a Mike Mata filing complaint day," Alexander says. "We're going into the police department so we can make sure they follow up."