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Attorneys question cop's account of neighbour's shooting

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

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TEXAS, United States (AP) — Attorneys for the family of a black man who was shot and killed by a white Dallas police officer who says she mistook his apartment for hers criticised the officer's account, saying it was overly sympathetic and contradicted statements from neighbours.

The officer's account emerged in an arrest affidavit released Monday, shortly after the district attorney announced that the case against officer Amber Guyger would be presented to a grand jury, which could decide on more serious charges than manslaughter.

Benjamin Crump, an attorney for relatives of 26-year-old Botham Jean, said the affidavit is “very self-serving”. And Lee Merritt, who also represents the family, called it an attempt to “condone what happened, give her a break”.

The document, prepared by a Texas Ranger, appeared to be based almost entirely on Guyger's description of events.

Guyger, a four-year veteran of the police force, told investigators that she had just ended a 15-hour shift last Thursday when she returned in uniform to the South Side Flats apartment complex. She parked on the fourth floor, instead of the third, where she lived, according to the affidavit, possibly suggesting that she was confused or disoriented.

When she put her key in the apartment door, which was unlocked and slightly ajar, it opened, the affidavit said. Inside, the lights were off, and she saw a figure in the darkness that cast a large silhouette across the room, according to the officer's account.

The officer told police that she concluded her apartment was being burglarised and gave verbal commands to the figure, which ignored them. She then drew her weapon and fired twice, the affidavit said.

She called 911 and, when asked where she was, returned to the front door to see she was in the wrong unit, according to the affidavit. Authorities have not released the 911 tapes.

The Dallas County medical examiner's office said Jean died of a gunshot wound to the chest. His death was ruled a homicide. Guyger was arrested Sunday night and booked into jail in neighbouring Kaufman County before being released on bond.

At a news conference Monday evening, Merritt said two independent witnesses have told him they heard knocking on the door in the hallway before the shooting.

He said one witness reported hearing a woman's voice saying, “Let me in! Let me in!” Then they heard gunshots, after which one witness said she heard a man's voice say, “Oh my God! Why did you do that?”

Merritt said he believes those were Jean's last words.

As for the contention that Jean left his front door ajar, Merritt said Jean was a “meticulous individual” who made it “a point to close the door behind him”.

“He put everything in a particular place,” Merritt said.

He said Jean had a red doormat outside his apartment door.

“In fact, to ensure no one mistook his apartment the way this officer is claiming in this case, he went out and bought the biggest, brightest red rug and placed it right there at his doorstep,” Merritt said.

Merritt has represented relatives of an unarmed black teenager who was fatally shot in the back by a white police officer in June while fleeing a traffic stop near Pittsburgh.

Crump is best known for representing the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. Martin, 17, was fatally shot in 2012 in Florida by George Zimmerman, a Hispanic man who was a neighbourhood watch captain. Brown, 18, was shot to death in 2014 by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

Protesters gathered at police headquarters Monday night in Dallas, The Dallas Morning News reported. Several dozen blocked traffic as they marched about half a mile from the headquarters. Police used pepper-spray devices to help control the crowd at one point.

Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson emphasised that her office was conducting its own probe, in addition to the investigation by the Texas Rangers. She will have the option of presenting more serious charges to the grand jury.

It was not immediately clear if Guyger had an attorney.

Guyger's blood was drawn at the scene to be tested for alcohol and drugs, Police Chief U Renee Hall said, but authorities have not released results.

Jean grew up in the Caribbean island nation of St Lucia before attending college in Arkansas. He graduated in 2016 from Harding University, where he often led campus religious services as a student. He had worked for accounting firm PwC since graduating.

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