The already-strange shooting case of mistaken location in Dallas grew even more curious today. Five days ago, a Dallas police officer shot a man whom she believed had broken into her apartment, only to discover she herself had the wrong apartment — and had shot the man who actually lived there. It took three days for police to arrest and charge Amber Guyger with manslaughter, a delay that has some arguing that police gave one of their own special treatment:
An off-duty Dallas police officer told authorities that she believed she had discovered a burglar inside her unlit apartment Thursday. That’s why she fired her service weapon at Botham Shem Jean, according to an affidavit released Monday after the officer was charged with manslaughter.
According to the new documents, Amber Guyger, 30, told Texas Ranger David Armstrong that her door was ajar when she arrived at her downtown Dallas apartment. She saw a “large silhouette” inside, drew her handgun and gave “verbal commands that were ignored” by Jean, 26. Guyger pulled the trigger, hitting Jean in the torso. He died of the injury hours later.
Guyger told investigators that she called 911, first turning on the lights while on the call. “Upon being asked where she was located by emergency dispatchers, Guyger returned to the front door to observe the address and discovered she was at the wrong apartment,” the affidavit said. …
Officials were tight-lipped Monday about what happened inside Jean’s apartment, what the officer’s physical and mental state was at the time, whether she was under the influence of a controlled substance, why she thought Jean’s apartment was hers, and why a trained officer seemed so quick to use deadly force.
It also is still unclear why investigators held off for three days before charging Guyger with manslaughter.
This case has been in the headlines for days, and these circumstances just get odder. Perhaps it’s understandable in a modern apartment complex to confuse one apartment for another, but was the door unlocked? If not, how did Guyger get access to the room? And why shoot rather than back out of the apartment and call for backup?
Those questions might take on more significance soon. The family claims that two witnesses in the complex heard a woman knocking and demanding access to an apartment just before the shooting took place:
Attorneys for Jean’s family say two witnesses told them details that contradict Guyger’s account.
“They heard knocking down the hallway followed by a woman’s voice that they believe to be officer Guyger saying, ‘Let me in. Let me in,’” attorney Lee Merritt said.
The family’s attorneys say one of the witnesses then heard gunshots followed by a man’s voice.
“What we believe to be the last words of Botham Jean which was ‘Oh my god, why did you do that?’” Merritt said.
On one hand, the veracity of witnesses in an open investigation has to be determined by detectives and prosecutors, and ultimately by a jury, so it’s important to keep from jumping to conclusions. On the other hand, this would seem to fit more with the mistaken-apartment issue. The shooting took place late at night, and one would think that Jean would have locked his apartment door, and that Guyger would have normally done the same thing with hers as a police officer. Having the key not work properly should have been the first clue that she was at the wrong door. If the door was unlocked, that should have given Guyger pause to wonder if she was in the right place, too.
That’s not to say that there won’t be a reasonable explanation from Guyger and the defense, but it might not matter in a manslaughter prosecution. The manslaughter law in Texas doesn’t require the district attorney to establish intent, only that Guyger acted in a “reckless” manner. Guyger would have to establish a reasonable use of self-defense, but that runs into one big problem — she initiated the confrontation by illegally entering Jean’s apartment, even if she didn’t intend on that. In Texas, the self-defense statute requires that the person using lethal force “did not provoke the person against whom the force was used,” and Guyger clearly did so with her illegal entry. That would likely scotch a self-defence claim even if Jean presented a reasonable threat to her life and/or of great bodily harm, which has not yet been established either.
Manslaughter seems to fit the circumstances at a minimum, which in Texas carries a penal term between two and twenty years in prison. The DA said yesterday that Guyger might face tougher charges once prosecutors review the case:
Dallas County’s top prosecutor suggested Monday that a stronger charge, including for murder, is possible against the Dallas police officer who killed her neighbor after she mistakenly entered his apartment. …
When asked about the potential for a murder charge against the officer, Johnson said “that very well may be an option.”
“The grand jury is going to have a full picture of what happened in this situation,” she added.
That might have something to do with the witnesses that the family has produced, or with other issues regarding Guyger’s statement and the forensic evidence. All of this, though, does raise the question as to why police didn’t detain her immediately when it became clear that she shot a man in his own apartment through her own mistaken and illegal entry. Perhaps it’s just a case of police taking extra caution, but it’s fair to wonder whether that extra caution would have applied had the situation been reversed.