UPDATE: Dallas Police Department Chief U. Renée Hall fired officer Amber Guyger on September 24, about two weeks after she was charged with manslaughter for the killing of Botham Jean.
Family and friends of Jordan Edwards cried tears of both joy and relief inside a Dallas County courtroom last month, after a jury declared the cop who shot and killed Edwards guilty of murder.
Accountability for Roy Oliver — the Balch Springs police officer who fired into a car full of unarmed kids, killing the freshman honor roll student — felt uncertain in a system where police officers are rarely charged, let alone convicted, for on-duty killings. In addition to some semblance of justice for Edwards’ family and community, convicting a white cop of murdering an innocent and unarmed black boy also carried enormous symbolic weight in DFW and beyond. In their closing arguments, Dallas County prosecutors said sending Oliver to prison would bolster public trust in police. Oliver’s conviction would prove what the system would no longer tolerate.
Nine days later, the shooting of Botham Shem Jean inside his own apartment by a Dallas police officer underscores why that trust remains thin, even in a county where prosecutors have made it a habit of going after cops involved in questionable killings. Jean’s shooting served as another example of police escalating a simple mistake into a deadly confrontation. According to police, Dallas officer Amber Guyger, in uniform after her shift, went into Jean’s unit the night of September 6, believing it was her own. Guyger wasn’t arrested or charged until three days later, when she turned herself in at the neighboring Kaufman County Jail — a kid gloves treatment that also revealed the flexibility often afforded cops who commit egregious acts.
For the family of Jean, a 26-year-old accountant from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, Guyger’s probable cause affidavit hints at the system already trying to protect its own. The document, written three days after the incident, raises more questions than answers, appears to rely solely on the officer’s brain-twisting account and portrays Jean as a threatening presence inside his own apartment. Local defense attorneys have said that the document appears to be written to absolve the officer. After authorities released the affidavit on Monday, lawyers representing Jean’s family came forward with witness accounts that they say directly contradict Guyger’s story — accounts that were apparently provided to law enforcement and yet weren’t included in the affidavit.
The lawyers have insisted on tying last week’s senseless killing to a larger pattern. Five days before Jean’s death and four days after Oliver’s murder conviction, a police officer in nearby Arlington shot and killed O’Shea Terry when he tried to flee a traffic stop. Police say the so-far unnamed officer fired because his arm got caught in the window of Terry’s truck as he tried to flee, but body camera footage released last week shows the officer grabbing at the window as it rolls up while climbing onto the car, sticking his arm inside and firing several times at the driver.
Saw Roy Oliver convicted for murder of #JordanEdwards. Next day flew to Philly to investigate the murder of #JeffreyDennis. Interrupted trip to fly to Arlington, TX after the murder of #OshaeTerry. #BothamJean was killed the same evening Terry video released. This was my week.
— S. Lee Merritt, Esq. (@MeritLaw) September 9, 2018
Daryl Washington, who represents Jordan Edwards’ family, is now guiding Jean’s surviving family members through the same process of trying to seek justice. To Washington, the shooting calls into question the reputation for reform Dallas has earned in recent years. Former District Attorney Craig Watkins vowed to unearth and make amends for wrongful convictions. Former Police Chiefs David Brown preached community policing and fired errant officers. Washington says that Jean’s shooting, and the way it’s been handled so far, should serve as yet another reality check on that narrative.
“Officials keep saying we’ve reformed, that this area was great and that we don’t have these issues anymore,” Washington told me. “What happened this week should show the world that that’s not the case, that you can’t sweep these issues under the rug, that they’ll always come out to light in very tragic ways.”