Botham Jean’s Family: Are Dallas Police Smearing His Reputation to Protect Officer Who Killed Him?

StorySeptember 17, 2018
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Protests continue in Dallas after the shooting and killing of a 26-year-old black man in his own apartment by a white Dallas police officer. Police officer Amber Guyger has been charged with manslaughter after she entered Botham Shem Jean’s apartment about two weeks ago and opened fire, killing him. Police claim she believed it to be her apartment. Questions are growing over why there was a three-day delay in charging Guyger and how she failed to know she was not in her own apartment when she killed Jean. Jean’s family is also criticizing police for issuing and making public information from a search warrant on Jean’s apartment. We speak with Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney who is representing the family of Botham Jean and says police are trying to smear Jean to shield their officer from punishment. “It took [Jean] being killed by a Dallas police officer for him to become a criminal,” Merritt notes.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We go to Dallas, where protests continue in the wake of the shooting and killing of a 26-year-old black man in his own apartment by a white Dallas police officer. The officer, Amber Guyger, has been charged with manslaughter after she entered Botham Shem Jean’s apartment less than two weeks ago and opened fire, killing him. Police claim the officer believed that his apartment was hers.

Outrage is growing as the community demands answers about the circumstances of Botham Jean’s death. On Sunday, nearly a hundred protesters marched through Dallas with two coffins to AT&T Stadium ahead of the Dallas Cowboys game. The coffins symbolized the deaths of Botham Jean and Oshae Terry, who also was fatally shot this month by a North Texas police officer.

Questions have been raised over why there was a three-day delay in charging officer Guyger and how she failed to know she was not in her own apartment when she killed Botham Jean in his. Jean’s family is also criticizing the police for issuing and making public information from a search warrant on Jean’s apartment. A police affidavit shows the officers seized, among other items, about 10 grams of marijuana and a marijuana grinder from Jean’s apartment. This is Allison Jean, Botham’s mother, speaking at a news conference Friday.

ALLISON JEAN: The information received yesterday is, to me, worse than the call that I got on the morning of Friday, September 7th. To have my son smeared in such a way, I think, shows that there are persons who are really nasty, who are really dirty and are going to cover up for the devil, Amber Guyger. I don’t know my son to be involved in such. And I want to find out whether the toxicology reports on Amber has been released, because she was the murderer.

AMY GOODMAN: Amber Guyger is out on $300,000 bond. Investigators have taken a blood sample from the officer to test for drugs and alcohol, but there’s no information on results of that test or any information on a search warrant of her apartment.

Well, for more, we’re joined by civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, representing the family of Botham Jean.

Lee Merritt, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you explain what’s happening in this case? I mean, people have to be, all over, as they hear this story of a police officer who gets off duty, walks into—well, the police claim she thought it was her apartment, but it was the apartment of Botham Jean, and then shoots him dead. Please explain.

LEE MERRITT: Yeah, we know that if this were in the reverse—for example, if a black man walked into a white police officer’s home and shot them to death and then claimed he thought he was in his apartment—this would be going very, very differently. And so, right now, we know that what Amber Guyger has offered as her explanation isn’t true. It’s demonstratively false. Her story has changed significantly since September 6th, when she offered that she was trying her key at the door, Botham opened the door, surprised him—I’m sorry, surprised her, and then she shot him. The story that she offered to rangers a few days later was that she actually entered the apartment where the door was already open, saw a silhouette, thought it to be a burglar, gave it instructions and then fired at it.

Neither of those stories make sense, because it just doesn’t—neither comport with common sense or the reality of the layout of that apartment. Number one, outside of her apartment looks completely different than the apartment of Botham Jean. His apartment has, for example, a big bright red rug there to greet people so that they will know that it’s his apartment. Her apartment didn’t have that rug there. Those doors are sure-shut doors. And so, I’ve been in Mr. Jean’s apartment, I’ve let the door go slowly, and they slam shut every time. And so, the idea that it was somehow mysteriously open, it just doesn’t comport with the mechanics of the apartment.

AMY GOODMAN: Botham Jean, a native of Saint Lucia, graduated from Harding University in Arkansas, extremely popular and beloved there, worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers, a multinational audit and consulting firm in downtown Dallas. Lee Merritt, was Amber Guyger’s apartment raided and searched by police? I mean, you have Botham Jean’s mother saying they are now leading a smear campaign, the police, against him.

LEE MERRITT: Yeah. As you pointed out, Botham Jean lived 26 years. He took steps to not only not be accused of a crime, but to completely avoid police encounters. His mom will describe to you that he was deathly afraid of American police and the idea of a police encounter, so he kept his registrations up to date, he kept his car mechanics up to date, because he feared that some sort of traffic stop would lead him into an unwanted encounter with what has a national or international reputation as a very deadly police force. And he went 26 years without being accused of any crime whatsoever, avoiding contact with law enforcement whatsoever. It took him being killed by a Dallas police officer for him to become a criminal.

And the Dallas Police Department sought a warrant to enter his home to specifically look for evidence of a crime, to look for drug paraphernalia—that’s what the warrant called for—following his murder. And there was no raid of her home. There were no warrants issued for any of her property. There was no warrant issued for her car or for her locker at the police department that she allegedly just left. There was no warrant issued for her apartment just below. And so the focus of this investigation since it happened has been on ways to find exculpatory evidence or looking for ways to justify her actions that are clearly unjustifiable. There could be no place that is supposed to offer more refuge than one’s own home.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what is the family demanding right now? Also, Officer Guyger didn’t have to speak to police—is this right?—for three—I mean, she’s a police officer—but for three days?

LEE MERRITT: That’s right. And in fairness, no one accused of a crime has to speak to police officers ever, of course, under the Fifth Amendment—I’m sorry, under the—yeah, the Fifth Amendment. Citizens are protected from having to testify against themselves. However, law enforcement officers are given three days, under their internal affairs policies, to prepare a statement. She volunteered her story the night of. Unfortunately, it changed since then.

To back up, what this family is demanding in this case is that the charges that have gone forward three days later, which was manslaughter, be increased to murder. We can’t find a sufficient justification for her entering his home, and we know now that what she’s saying isn’t true, and so that applies that element of malice that we think that the charge of murder, as opposed to manslaughter, would be more appropriate.

A simple request that this family has made of the city of Dallas and the Dallas Police Department is that this officer be fired. Whether she committed murder or manslaughter—as we believe—she committed a crime, a serious crime. There’s no reason that she should remain employed with the Dallas Police Department.

We’ve also called for the Dallas Police Department to end the smear campaign against the decedent, against Botham Jean, and focus their energies on gathering evidence, collecting or discovering witnesses who might make clear what actually happened that night.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you for being with us, and I hope that we can speak to you soon about developments in this case. Lee Merritt, civil rights attorney representing the family of Botham Jean, who was shot and killed by Dallas police officer Amber Guyger in his own apartment. She said she mistook his apartment for hers.

Happy birthday to Sam Alcoff! That does it for our broadcast. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks for joining us.

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