Military and Police

Prosecutorial Misconduct in the Amber Guyger Case?

Tragedy struck when a now-former Dallas police officer named Amber Guyger entered an apartment she reportedly mistook as hers and shot/killed its actual tenant, Botham Jean. The prosecutor charged Ms. Guyger with murder. A trial ensued. She was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison. After the sentencing hearing, presiding Judge Tammy Kemp gave her a Bible. That same judge is under fire for her act of compassion and for exhibiting humanity while also exercising her rights, despite the tragic reasons which catapulted Ms. Guyger behind steel bars.

With critical thinking skills, OpsLens contributor Steve Pomper published a mind-opening accounting pertinent to Ms. Guyger’s role in Mr. Jean’s tragic death.

As in many high-profile criminal cases, post-prosecution details emerge. Backstories containing substantive matter either judicially denied by the court or ruled upon after legal wrangling by both sides (plaintiff/defense) surface when the gavel signals case closed. And the Guyger case has a dynamic which sullies the system. It’s a doozy seemingly drizzled with politics and dashed with prosecutorial misconduct.

The hubbub is about lead prosecutor Jason Hermus and Mike Mata, the union president of the Dallas Police Association, embroiled in a kerfuffle over alleged impropriety.

What’s the stink about?

Reports are that a Dallas patrol officer who had Ms. Guyger in the rear seat of his patrol car shut off his video/audio recording equipment at the request of Mr. Mata after he arrived on scene to do what police union reps do: maintain steadfast acuity with respect to police officers’ rights. Just as anyone facing charges is accorded the “right to remain silent” and the option to “consult with an attorney,” Ms. Guyger was equivalently entitled. Police officer or not, she had every reason to believe her constitutional rights would be heeded, and that was Mr. Mata’s objective, especially as a police union rep providing the legal services to which then-Officer Guyger was entitled as a police union member.

But it went sideways and blew up when it came out that District Attorney Jason Hermus allegedly placed his judicial finger where it didn’t have the right to poke. CBS DFW news footage surfaced which depicted union boss Mata leaning into the Dallas police cruiser, conferring with Guyger. What was said between the two is the source of contention asserted by Mr. Hermus. Hermus claimed that Mr. Mata meddled when he directed the police officer (in whose cruiser Guyger sat) to turn off the video/audio-recording equipment so that Guyger could talk with her attorney on the phone. Her basic right, right?

According to the Daily Wire, “The footage showed Mata leaning into the patrol car and then telling another officer to turn off the car’s recording devices while Guyger was speaking to her attorney over the phone. This is what prosecutors and a civil rights group appear to be claiming as a cover up and some kind of conspiracy to alter Guyger’s account of what occurred in [Mr. Jean’s] apartment.”

Any novice law aspirant is well aware of attorney-client privilege and the ultra-privacy afforded by such legal tenet. As National Fraternal Order of Police President Patrick Yoes stated on this matter, “Anyone who has seen an episode of TV’s ‘Law and Order’ knows that conversations between a client and her attorney are privileged communications.” Ding!

So it goes without saying: District Attorney Jason Hermus should know better than to jut his nose where it does not belong. As Mr. Mata has suggested in front of many media cameras: Why hadn’t DA Hermus called him to the stand if he had any notion of any impropriety? Good question. Why wait until after the case is decided in a court of law to throw a stone? Another good question. Perhaps some animosity exists; both have been in the Dallas criminal justice arena for some time now. Even some folks on the same team sometimes do not jibe well: Human nature.

As we have seen much in recent years, some prosecutors are going against the judicial grain and seemingly spearheading emotion-based maneuvers which in and of themselves give rise to prosecutorial misconduct. Is that what happened in the Guyger case? Did the prosecutor have some axe to grind? Is he harboring some political headwinds which he wished to sail further into the psyches of those who may find favor in him? Ride the anti-cop wave and spread the anti-police rhetoric in order to climb the political rungs?

Despite any nefarious or legitimate reasonings, it is abjectly wrong for any officer of the court to even remotely claw at a defendant’s right to privately consult with an attorney. Depriving such a constitutional right is to deny due process; Hermus knows this. So does Steve Stribley, president of the Texas Fraternal Order of Police. Stribley replied in writing: “Even a first-year law student knows that [Guyger’s] conversation was protected under attorney-client privilege and any effort to record such confidential communication would be illegal.

“Hermus was willing to make a despicable, false, and theatrical accusation to win a conviction, even if it meant deteriorating the public’s trust in the Dallas Police Department and discrediting a decorated police officer [Mr. Mata] who has spent the last 25 years of his life protecting families.”

National FOP President Yoes also weighed in, writing: “I was outraged to learn that Dallas Assistant District Attorney Jason Hermus deliberately and maliciously attacked the character of Mike Mata, the President of the Dallas FOP lodge, in the course of prosecuting Officer Amber Guyger. It was unnecessary, it was wrong and it was so grossly irresponsible that I believe it constitutes prosecutorial misconduct.”

The Houston Police Officers’ Union wrote, “The Dallas District Attorney’s office should be embarrassed by the conduct of ADA Jason Hermus. His stunt in trial sullied the good name of Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata and he attempted to tear down the bridge Mike has spent decades building with the community.”

In its press release, the Texas FOP has labeled DA Hermus a “rogue prosecutor.”

It became more dubious after I discovered the following byline below a CBSDFW video release: “Mike Mata says the Dallas County District Attorney’s office has for years endorsed having companion officers look out for the immediate needs of an officer after a shooting.”

Incidentally, Hermus should also know that if Mr. Mata somehow steered “Guyger’s account” while she sat in the cruiser’s rear seat, that same patrol officer behind the steering wheel would have likely heard such and would’ve testified to that on the stand. That didn’t happen, so what’s really going on here? Hidden agenda? Blood in the water?

Well, what do you think about the stink?

The opinions expressed here by contributors are their own and are not the view of OpsLens which seeks to provide a platform for experience-driven commentary on today's trending headlines in the U.S. and around the world. Have a different opinion or something more to add on this topic? Contact us for guidelines on submitting your own experience-driven commentary.
Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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