Emily J. Sullivan
Following the death of Botham Shem Jean – the 26-year-old African American man who was shot when off-duty Dallas police officer Amber Guyger apparently mistakenly entered his apartment on Sept. 6, thinking it was her own – it’s clear something went horribly wrong, say local experts.
“The public’s perception and law enforcement’s perception of Bothem’s case find common ground in that they both agree that something went terribly wrong, and someone should be held accountable,” said Upland Police Chief Darren Goodman. “The public should understand, though, that even a cop has a right to due process.”
According to Guyger’s statement, she parked on the fourth floor after her shift, still in uniform and carrying a gun. She went to the apartment directly above her own. Once she opened the door, which she stated was ajar when she inserted her key, she saw a large silhouette. Thinking it was her own home, she drew her weapon and gave verbal commands that Jean allegedly ignored. She fired twice, hitting Jean once in the chest and ending the 26-year-old’s life.
Guyger was arrested three days later. Dallas Police Department gave a statement announcing that they had invited Texas Rangers to take over the case and conduct an independent investigation.
Protests erupted in Dallas, with marches making their way from the police station to Jean’s apartment. Guyger has been charged with manslaughter and is out on bail.
“Guyger’s crime should qualify as murder,” said Chaffey College student and civil rights activist Sabriah Johnwell. “But they probably charged her with manslaughter because she’s white, to get her off easier and let her end up doing less time for murdering an innocent black man.”
Jean’s death hits an already raw nerve. Although this particular case is bizarre and unique, a black man is once again dead at the hands of a white police officer and people want answers, they want justice.
“Mistake of fact will likely be (Guyger’s) defense,” said Carolyn Bekhor, associate professor of legal studies at the University of La Verne. “It’s a lawful defense, and she is insisting she thought it was her house. If the mistake of fact defense worked, she would not be convicted, because it is the law.
“Was it a reasonable mistake that any average person could make?” Bekhor asked. “Not a drunk person or a person with an itchy trigger-finger, but a reasonable person? That’s the question they’ll need to answer.”
This case calls into question the apparent readiness of law enforcement officials to use lethal force when they perceive a threat.
“Police officer safety is obviously very important,” said Upland resident Eric R. Gavin, whose brother-in-law was killed by police in 2016. “They need not to forget the part of their service, when they say to serve and protect, is that they are putting their life in between ours,” Gavin said. “Police need to find ways to take a volatile situation and de-escalate, more of a mindset of crime prevention rather than crime enforcement.”
Emily J. Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.