Case against cop who killed St Lucian to go to grand jury

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

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TEXAS, United States (AP) — The case against a white Dallas police officer who shot and killed a black neighbour in the neighbour's home will be presented to a grand jury, which could decide on more serious charges than manslaughter, the district attorney overseeing the case said yesterday.

Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson said her office will first collect evidence surrounding last Thursday's fatal shooting by officer Amber Guyger, who told authorities that she had mistaken the neighbour's apartment for her own.

The officer was arrested Sunday night and booked into jail in neighbouring Kaufman County before being released on bond.

Lawyers for the victim's family questioned why it took three days for Guyger to be charged. One said the officer should have been in handcuffs the night of the shooting, instead of three days later. They also wondered why, based on news reports, Guyger was so quick to use deadly force against 26-year-old Botham Jean.

When asked why Guyger was allowed to surrender somewhere other than Dallas County's jail, Johnson said the decision was made by the Texas Rangers, who are also investigating.

Citing an unidentified law enforcement official with direct knowledge of the case, The Dallas Morning News reported that Guyger had just ended a 15-hour shift when she returned in uniform to the South Side Flats apartment complex, where both she and Jean lived. She parked on the fourth floor, instead of the third where she lived, possibly suggesting that she was confused or disoriented.

When she put her key in the unlocked apartment door, it opened. Inside, the lights were off. Then she saw a figure in the darkness, according to the official who was not authorised to discuss the case publicly.

The officer concluded that her apartment was being burglarised, drew her weapon and fired twice. When she turned on the lights, she realised she was in the wrong unit, the newspaper reported.

A spokeswoman for the Texas Rangers did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press seeking to confirm the details of the newspaper report.

Mayor Mike Rawlings also said yesterday that Guyger had parked on the wrong floor.

The Dallas County medical examiner's office said Jean died of a gunshot wound to the chest. His death was ruled a homicide.

Jean's mother said investigators had not given her family an account of what happened. Allison Jean told a news conference that she asked many questions but was told there are no answers yet.

The family hired attorney Benjamin Crump, who is best known for representing the families of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. Martin was the black 17-year-old who was fatally shot in 2012 by George Zimmerman, a Hispanic man who was his Orlando-area neighbourhood's watch captain. Brown, who was 18, was shot to death in 2014 by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

“Black people in America have been killed by police in some of the most unbelievable manners,” Crump said yesterday, citing “driving while black in our cars” and “walking while black in our neighbourhoods”.

Now, he said, “we are being killed living while black when we are in our apartments”.

The family's legal team also includes Lee Merritt, who has represented relatives of an unarmed black teenager who was shot in the back by a white police officer in June while fleeing a traffic stop near Pittsburgh.

On the day after the shooting, Police Chief U Renee Hall said her department was seeking manslaughter charges against Guyger, a four-year veteran of the police force. But Hall said Saturday that the Texas Rangers asked her department to hold off because they had learned new information and wanted to investigate further before a warrant was issued.

The district attorney will also have the option of presenting more serious charges to the grand jury.

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

Allison Jean wondered whether race could have been a factor. Her son grew up in the Caribbean island nation of St Lucia before attending college in Arkansas.

“If it was a white man, would it have been different? Would she have reacted differently?” Allison Jean asked last Friday.

Jean wasn't the first person shot by Guyger. She shot a man named Uvaldo Perez on May 12, 2017, while on duty.

According to an affidavit filed against Perez, police were looking for a suspect when Guyger and another officer were called to assist a third officer. Perez got out of a car and became combative with Guyger and another officer. A struggle began and Guyger fired her taser at Perez, who then wrested it away from her. She then drew her gun and fired, wounding Perez in the abdomen.

Sgt Mike Mata, president of Dallas' largest police union, the Dallas Police Association, called Saturday for an “open, transparent and full investigation of the event”, the newspaper reported.

He described Jean as an “amazing individual” and said that “if the grand jury deems necessary, this officer should have to answer for her actions in a court of law in Dallas County”.

Friends and family gathered Saturday at the Dallas West Church of Christ to remember Jean, who had worked for accounting firm PwC since graduating in 2016 from Harding University, where he often led campus religious services as a student.

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