An attorney for the family of Botham Shem Jean said there’s enough evidence to charge a Dallas police officer who authorities say mistakenly entered Jean’s apartment and killed him.
Calls to arrest Amber Guyger have intensified over the weekend as investigators held off on obtaining an arrest warrant on manslaughter charges. Dallas Police Chief Renée Hall said investigators needed more time to decipher what they have described as an unusual case of a shooting by an officer. The Texas Ranger Division, a separate agency that’s investigating the case, had asked that the warrant be postponed.
The shooting has raised questions about whether Guyger, who is white, used deadly force against Jean, a naturalized U.S. citizen from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, because he’s black.
Jean, 26, was shot Thursday night in his unit in an apartment building near downtown Dallas. Police said Guyger, still in uniform after working a shift, went inside Jean’s apartment believing it was hers. Police have not said what transpired afterward, other than to say that Guyger fired her weapon. She called 911, and Jean died at a hospital.
Allison Jean embraces her son’s friends after a prayer vigil for Botham Shem Jean at the Dallas West Church of Christ on Saturday. He was shot by a police officer in his own apartment on Thursday night. (Shaban Athuman/Dallas Morning News/AP)
Dallas civil rights attorney Lee Merritt said that based on his conversations with officials, including Hall, there was enough evidence to arrest Guyger on suspicion of manslaughter. Merritt said he asked investigators with the Texas Ranger Division whether the postponement meant there was no probable cause to arrest Guyger.
“They said, ‘Not necessarily,’ and that they just wanted more evidence,” Merritt told The Washington Post.
The delay has frustrated Jean’s grieving family members and raised questions about deferential treatment for police officers.
“In any normal case where there’s probable cause . . . you make an arrest,” Merritt said. “When law enforcement [is under investigation], for some reason, we don’t use the normal protocol in dealing with criminal activity.”
Merritt said Jean and the officer did not know each other. The officer’s apartment was directly below Jean’s, he said.
Jean’s mother, Allison, a former St. Lucia government official, called the news of his death “a nightmare.”
“I need to look into her eyes and ask her why did she do that to my son,” Allison Jean told NBC News. “Botham would want me to get justice for him. The state needs to pay for my son.”
Guyger, who has been with the police department for four years, has been placed on administrative leave. She was not injured. Officials have not explained why she thought Jean’s apartment was hers or what her mental or physical state was at the time. A blood sample has been drawn for alcohol and drug tests.
A police spokeswoman referred questions to the Texas Ranger Division. The Texas Department of Public Safety, which oversees the ranger division, has not responded to a request for comment.
During a criminal justice panel on Saturday, Hall promised that the police department will be transparent. She said that her agency was in the process of obtaining an arrest warrant last week but that after the ranger division interviewed Guyger, investigators asked for more time to look into the information the officer gave.
Jean’s death has renewed calls for policing reform and places the national spotlight back on a police department that, just two years ago, lost five of its officers in a shooting. A gunman who “said he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers,” opened fire in July 2016 in the middle of what had otherwise been a peaceful protest over police shootings.
Hall said she did not know whether race was a factor in Jean’s death and asked the public for patience as investigators do their work.
Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt talks to reporters after a prayer vigil for Botham Shem Jean on Saturday in Dallas. (Shaban Athuman/Dallas Morning News/AP)
“There is so much rhetoric surrounding this incident. We have a lot of questions that are unanswered,” Hall said. “Allow us to get to the bottom of those answers that we could give to you, and then let’s have a discussion.”
Merritt, who also represents the family of Antwon Rose II, an unarmed teenager who was shot by an East Pittsburgh police officer, said race and police’s use of force are deeply intertwined in this country. The night of the shooting, Guyger’s apartment key was found in Jean’s door, suggesting that she had tried to open it, Merritt said. Seeing a black man inside an apartment she thought was hers influenced her actions, Merritt concluded.
“I have to believe based on experience that her decision to use deadly force in the way that she did was influenced by the fact that she was standing in front of a black male and that our society has allowed law enforcement to use deadly force in unnecessary situations against black men with impunity,” he said.
Jean moved from St. Lucia to Arkansas, Merritt said. He graduated in 2016 from Harding University, a private Christian school in Searcy, Ark., where he was a member of an a cappella group that performs spiritual songs for churches. Jean frequently led singing at the university chapel and during campus events.
“The entire Harding family grieves today for the loss of Botham Jean, who has meant so very much to us,” university officials said.
Bruce McLarty, president of the university, said he once asked Jean to lead the singing of an unfamiliar old hymn. Jean was excited about singing it, though he had not heard of the song. The day he was to perform it, McLarty recalled, Jean called his grandmother in St. Lucia, and she taught him the song over the phone.
“He shared it with us. … It was a truly special moment,” McLarty said.
We learned this morning of the tragic death of 2016 alumnus Botham Jean, who was shot in his home last night. Our entire family grieves today for the loss of Botham who has meant so very much to us. Please join us in praying for Botham’s friends & family. https://t.co/K1Swfm8i9Y pic.twitter.com/mSVCR2EVJq
— Harding University (@HardingU) September 7, 2018
Jean was an accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dallas, an international company that does assurance, tax and advisory work for firms around the world.
“This is a terrible tragedy,” the company said in a statement. “Botham Jean was a member of the PwC family in our Dallas office, and we are simply heartbroken to hear of his death.”
Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said Saturday that he had talked to Jean’s family and to St. Lucia’s prime minister to apologize for the young man’s death.
Jean, Rawlings said, “was exactly the sort of citizen we want to have in the city of Dallas.”
Dallas Police Chief Renée Hall and state Sen. Royce West (D) listen as people ask questions about Botham Shem Jean on Saturday at Paul Quinn College. (Shaban Athuman/Dallas Morning News/AP)
Lindsey Bever and Taylor Telford contributed to this report.