Botham Jean Family’s Lawyer Hails White Cop’s Murder Conviction as “Precedent-Setting Case”

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A white off-duty police officer who shot and killed a 26-year-old black man in his own home in Dallas in 2018 was convicted of murder on Tuesday. The officer, Amber Guyger, entered Botham Jean’s apartment, mistaking it for her own, and shot and killed him. Jean’s apartment was located one floor below Guyger’s in the building. She claimed during trial to have believed Jean was an intruder. Guyger is the first Dallas police officer to be convicted of murder since the 1970s, according to The Dallas Morning News. For more on the case, we speak with Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the family of Botham Jean. He says the verdict is a potentially “precedent-setting case” that signals white police officers cannot kill unarmed black and brown people without consequence.

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AMY GOODMAN: A white police officer who shot and killed a 26-year-old black man in his own home in Dallas in 2018 has been convicted of murder. The verdict came down Tuesday, more than a year after off-duty police officer Amber Guyger killed Botham Jean. Guyger claimed during trial that she accidentally entered Jean’s apartment and shot him, thinking he was an intruder. Jean’s apartment was located one floor below Guyger’s in the Dallas apartment building. This is Judge Tammy Kemp delivering the verdict.

JUDGE TAMMY KEMP: The jury having reached a verdict, Ms. Guyger and your team, would you please stand? “We, the jury, unanimously find the defendant, Amber Guyger, guilty of murder as charged in the indictment.”

AMY GOODMAN: Family and community members in the courthouse erupted in celebration at the news. In the hallways, spectators chanted “Black Lives Matter.” Guyger is the first Dallas police officer to be convicted of murder since the 1970s, this according to The Dallas Morning News. This is Lee Merritt, one of the lawyers for Botham Jean’s family.

LEE MERRITT: We still have the sentencing phase to go, but this is a huge victory, not only for the family of Botham Jean, but, as his mother Allison told me a moment ago, this is a victory for black people in America. It’s a signal that the tide is going to change here. Police officers are going to begin to be held accountable for their actions, and we believe that that will begin to change policing culture all over the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Amber Guyger faces up to 99 years in prison. This is the family’s lawyer, Benjamin Crump, speaking Tuesday.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: This verdict is for Trayvon Martin. It’s for Michael Brown. It’s for Sandra Bland. It’s for Tamir Rice. It’s for Eric Garner. It’s for Antwon Rose. It’s for Jemel Roberson, for E.J. Bradford, for Stephon Clark, for Jeffrey Dennis, Genevieve Dawes, for Pamela Turner, for so many unarmed black and brown human beings all across America. This verdict today is for them.

AMY GOODMAN: After the jury returned its verdict, prosecutors introduced racist and offensive text messages and social media posts written by Guyger, in which she joked about Martin Luther King Jr.’s death and called herself a racist.

Well, for more, we go to Dallas, Texas, to speak with Benjamin Crump, an attorney for the family of Botham Jean. He’s the author of the upcoming memoir, Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People.

Welcome back to Democracy Now!, Ben Crump. First of all, just, overall, respond to the verdict. As we speak, the sentence has not been decided.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Correct. But it was a historic verdict yesterday, just in the fact — my co-counsels are Daryl Washington and Lee Merritt — we believe that this is the first time that a white policewoman has ever been convicted of murder of a black man in America. So, we don’t underscore this decision by this jury in any way. It was a huge verdict, not just for Botham Jean’s family, but for so many others who never got justice for the unjustified killings of their loved ones.

And the one thing I would say, Amy, is Botham Jean was a near-perfect person of color. And I believe that the jury took that into account as they were deliberating. But it shouldn’t take you being a near-perfect person of color for an unarmed person of color to get justice in America. And so, we are still trying to say that everybody, regardless of your social status or the index of your income, should get equal justice under the law. That’s what the Constitution says.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Botham Jean’s mother Allison testifying Tuesday after the verdict was delivered.

ALLISON JEAN: My life has not been the same. It’s just been like a roller coaster. I cannot sleep. I cannot eat. It’s just been the most terrible time for me. I almost am not able to work, but I just try to busy myself, just to see if it will get out of my head. But it’s been very, very, very difficult.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Botham Jean’s mother Allison. Again, the decision on the sentence will be made, we believe, today.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Ben Crump, if you could give us the narrative of exactly what happened, for those people who haven’t followed this just unbelievable case? You have Amber Guyger. She has worked her day on her job. And then describe what happens and when it was.

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Certainly. Amber Guyger, a Dallas police officer, who lives in the same apartment complex as Botham Jean, this 26-year-old, highly educated African-American man who was a certified public accountant working for PricewaterhouseCoopers, she lives on the third floor. Right above her, Botham Jean lives on the fourth floor. She comes, and she gets off on the wrong floor, and she puts her key into Botham’s apartment. At this apartment complex, they’ve had some issues apparently with the doors, many witnesses testified. But when she puts her key in the door, the door opens.

At that point, she says, on the stand, that she heard somebody moving around in the apartment. Now, she’s a well-trained police officer, allegedly. Her training tells her if she thinks it’s a burglar or somebody doing something nefarious in her apartment, at that point the best thing for her to do is to set up a perimeter, call for backup. The police department is less than two miles away; they will be there within 90 seconds — the cavalry, the K9 unit, everybody — give her cover. And they can give out verbal commands, and they can de-escalate the situation, if it really is a nefarious situation. But she doesn’t do any of that. She testifies that when she heard that, she said she assumed it was a burglar or threat, and she was going in to take the threat out. And that’s exactly what she did.

The unfortunate tragedy is that it was Botham Jean’s apartment. He was in there eating a bowl of ice cream, watching the football game, working, doing everything he had the legal right to do. And, unfortunately, because she prejudged him, prejudged the situation, she shot first and asked questions later. This light in this world has been taken away from us, and it’s something his family will never get over. So that’s why you heard his mother breaking down on the witness stand, because he was truly a light for this world that was so desperately needed.

And the last thing I will say is that Amber Guyger, you know, she tried to say that it was the worst day of her life and that she didn’t think anybody could understand that this is the worst day of her life. The prosecutors, when they cross-examined her, they pointed out the fact, “But you didn’t treat it like you had made this terrible mistake. You were texting on the phone with your partner/lover. You were not trying to render any aid to this unarmed person, who you had now realized was innocent and that you were in the wrong apartment.” So, it was these things here that were so unbelievably outrageous, that she did on multiple occasions, that I believe led the jury to say that you do not get the benefit of consideration or mistake, based on all the decisions that you made to kill this unarmed black man in his own apartment.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at a piece in The New York Times today, Ben, and it says, talking about now the sentencing phase of this trial, whether she’ll get — she faces between five and 99 years in prison. And it says, “Prosecutors sought — The jury, which will decide the length of punishment, began hearing testimony in the sentencing portion of the trial … Prosecutors sought to draw the jury’s attention to past social media posts by Ms. Guyger, including a post, 'Kill first, die last' that she had saved to a page for 'quotes and inspiration.' The prosecution also highlighted a text they said Ms. Guyger sent while working at a parade celebrating the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. When asked when the festivities would end, she wrote: 'When MLK is dead … oh wait …'” Ben Crump?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Yeah, it’s just shocking, these posts that this police officer was sending to her partner, Martin Rivera, who she was having an affair with. And remember, she was sexting with him 20 minutes before she killed Botham Jean. But there are many posts where she said, “I wear black, and I have a gun, so don’t F— with me, because I’m already dressed for your funeral.” And so, I think these posts kind of give us some perspective of her mentality.

And I don’t know if she is racist; I don’t know the woman at all. But these posts certainly suggest that she had an issue with people of color, because there were some other posts in there where she suggested what to do with the crowds of — the diverse crowds of people who were celebrating at the Martin Luther King parade, how you should just mace them and do these other things that violate their constitutional rights. So I think the jury will have all of these things to consider when they put a verdict forth for the sentence of this white policewoman, Amber Guyger, who killed this unarmed black man in his own apartment in Dallas, Texas.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m wondering your response to activists calling for the resignation of the Dallas police union president Mike Mata over the alleged special treatment he gave Amber Guyger, prosecutors arguing Mata instructed a Dallas police sergeant to turn off the recording system inside the patrol car that would transport Guyger to the station after the shooting. Your response?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: No, there’s no question they treated her differently than they would have treated any other suspect who had just killed an unarmed person in their own apartment. They were violating policies when they said, “Turn off the video camera,” instructing her not to say anything. Because these were all people who she associated with on a regular basis, so it was almost as if they were trying to come up with a justification for this unjustifiable killing, from day one. From moment one, they were trying to conspire how to make sure she would walk and not be held accountable for this crime.

And when you really think about it, when you listen to the 911 tape, she never once said that she felt threatened by Botham Jean, that he was charging her or anything like that. She just said that she messed up, she went to the wrong apartment, she’s sorry, she’s sorry. And this call was about 19 minutes. It was only after she had talked to and, we believe, been coached by the union president and others, that she came up with this notion to say, “Well, I felt threatened. I thought he was going to kill me.” And remember, the United States Supreme Court has given the instructions to all police officers: When they kill unarmed people of color, all you have to do is say, “I felt threatened. I felt in fear of my life.” And normally that means you get a get-out-of-jail-pass-free card for killing our black and brown people. And I think that’s what people are so outraged about in the activist and civil rights community, that this union president can do this, be caught on tape doing it, and have no consequences, just like her and her partner/lover, who was married, deleting text messages from their phones, knowing that that was a vital part of the criminal investigation into the death of Botham Jean.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the message you think this sends to the African-American community, to the United States of America, every population, Ben Crump?

BENJAMIN CRUMP: Yeah, Amy, I think this is a precedent-setting case in many ways. We pray that it will decrease the hashtags of unarmed black and brown people being killed by the people who are supposed to protect and serve us. We hope that it sends the message to the police departments that your officers should be following the policies of de-escalation, so we can have conflict resolution and not this shoot-first, ask-questions-later mentality when it comes to interactions with black and brown people. And the last thing, for society as a whole, we pray that it will be a precedence to reaffirm what the United States Constitution has emblazoned on our society, that it is equal justice under the law.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you so much for being with us, Ben Crump, civil rights attorney, attorney for the family of Botham Jean. He’s the author of the upcoming memoir, Open Season: Legalized Genocide of Colored People.

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, the protests in Hong Kong, and then we’ll talk about protests in Haiti. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: Botham Jean, singing “Let the Spirit of the Lord Rise.” He would have been 28 last Sunday. He was killed by Amber Guyger, the Dallas police officer. She has been convicted of murder.

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