Military and Police

What Does Dallas Cop’s Murder Conviction Have to Do with Police Accountability…Or with Racism…Or with Murder?

After hearing about the breaking-news murder conviction of former Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger on a mainstream news broadcast, a quote the media outlet used struck me. A man representing some “civil rights” group said something to the effect, this is justice. Now, people will see that the courts will hold white police officers accountable when they kill black people.

Please, tell me, what does an off-duty police officer, accidentally (perhaps even negligently) entering the wrong apartment in an apartment complex, and killing a man she thought was a burglar, have to do with “holding the police accountable”? I’m also wondering what it has to do with murder. Everything about this case seems to point to a tragic mistake, not a murder motivated by racism.

I read nothing about Ms. Guyger being intoxicated or high but only tired after a 14-hour shift. The door to the apartment she testified she thought was hers (the apartment was one floor directly above hers) was partially open.

For any police officer, likely for any person, this can be a sign of unauthorized entry. Guyger, who was still in uniform, said she heard movement in what she thought was her apartment and wanted to “find the threat.”

She said she entered the apartment to investigate and saw a silhouette. She called to the man to show his hands. According to her testimony, the man approached her at a “fast-paced walk.” That’s when she shot the man twice, killing him.

Tragically, the man she shot, Botham Jean, was relaxing in his own apartment, minding his own business, eating a bowl of ice cream. Why was the door ajar? Who knows? Maybe he was waiting on a visitor or he’d accidentally left it open. It really doesn’t matter now and by no means reflects negatively on Mr. Jean. However, it can’t be denied this factual detail allowed all that followed to transpire.

In fact, one could see a reverse of the tragedy. Mr. Jean mistakenly leaves the door ajar, Ms. Guyger mistakenly enters Mr. Jean’s apartment, but instead of Guyger shooting Jean, Jean shoots Guyger believing she had broken into his apartment. Incidentally, Ms. Guyger commented she wished Mr. Jean had the gun and had shot her instead.

In another alternate scenario, according to KFOR News 4, lead prosecutor Jason Hermus wondered why Ms. Guyger entered “the apartment ‘to find the threat’ rather than back away and seek cover or call for officer assistance over her police radio.” As with any second-guessing, I bet she wonders why she didn’t do that either. But Mr. Hermus wasn’t in that hallway that night, confronting all these strange circumstances. Ms. Guyger was.

Being tired, distracted, or whatever, can have strange effects on people. In the 90s, I owned a green Ford Explorer. Returning to what I thought was my car, I put my key in the front passenger’s side door lock—it fit, but the key wouldn’t open the lock. I suddenly realized it was not my car. After realizing my mistake, I noticed many differences between that car and mine, but that didn’t prevent me from making an assumption and an error.

What would have happened if the car’s owner had returned while I had my key in the lock? Would they have been right to think I was attempting to steal the car? Would they have been right to use force to hold me there for the cops? What would have happened if I’d hurt the car’s owner resisting his or her attempts to detain me? After all, it was my mistake. It’s so easy to criticize mistakes people make until or unless you’ve made similar errors yourself. Fortunately, most mistakes don’t have tragic consequences.

Another tragedy seems to be that cop-critics have made race a significant factor only because Ms. Guyger is white and Mr. Jean is black. Reason informs me that if Ms. Guyger had encountered a white man whom she thought was an intruder in her apartment, the tragic results would have been identical. Once again, people accuse someone of racism with no evidence presented other than their personal bias and it fits the anti-cop narrative.

Another troubling factor was also reported by KFOR: “Texas Ranger David Armstrong, the lead investigator of the case, said in court last week —while the jury was not in the room— that he believed Guyger’s actions were reasonable and that she did not commit murder, nor manslaughter or criminally negligent manslaughter. Despite multiple attempts by the defense team to have Armstrong offer his opinion before the jury, the judge would not allow it.”

“Opinion”? He was the “lead investigator.” Where I come from that’s called testimony—evidence.

Not allowing the primary investigator to provide his insights into his case seems highly unfair and, I would think, may leave room for an appeal. In fact, it makes me wonder if the judge disallowed the Ranger’s testimony to make more likely a murder conviction, which the judge figured would be overturned on appeal. But the risk of a public disturbance would be averted. I hate to think this way, I hope I’m wrong, but, these days, you have to wonder about such motivations.

Here’s another thing: If this was murder, where was Ms. Guyger’s intent? I can understand negligence, perhaps recklessness (in going into the wrong apartment), but I’m finding no evidence of Ms. Guyger’s intent to murder Mr. Jean. I can’t shake the feeling the state hyper-prosecuted Ms. Guyger explicitly because she was a white police officer and the victim was black.

Manslaughter, maybe. But murder seems a dramatic overstep considering the unique facts of this case.

The true victim here, of course, is Botham Jean, who’d done nothing to affect events but leave his door open for whatever reason. Sadly, tragedy turns on minute seemingly inconsequential things. Had Mr. Jean locked his door, Ms. Guyger would have realized her mistake when her key didn’t open the door, and she’d have likely returned to her apartment. And Mr. Jean would have continued relaxing, enjoying his bowl of ice cream, and living the rest of his life, as should have been the case. But many seemingly inconsequential things happened that conspired to create a situation with horrendous consequences.

This review of the facts is certainly not meant to blame Mr. Jean in any way for any portion of what happened. Mr. Jean has been described as a stellar member of the community and a kind, caring, and wonderful human being. I only wish to point out details that seem to have contributed to the horrific outcome in this incident and which indicate a monumental error rather than a vicious intent to murder.

In the end, this case was not a referendum on police accountability or on racism in policing. This appears to have been a case of a person making a tragic (possibly negligent or perhaps even reckless) mistake that will haunt Ms. Guyger during both her waking and sleeping hours for the rest of her life.

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.
Steve Pomper

Steve Pomper is an OpsLens contributor, a retired Seattle police officer, and the author of four non-fiction books, including De-Policing America: A Street Cop’s View of the Anti-Police State. You can read a review of this new book in Front Page Magazine and listen to an interview with Steve on the Joe Pags Show. Steve was a field-training officer, on the East Precinct Community Police Team, and served his entire career on the streets. He has a BA in English Language and Literature. He enjoys spending time with his kids and grand-kids. He loves to ride his Harley, hike, and cycle with his wife, Jody, a retired firefighter. You can find out more about Steve and send him comments and questions at www.stevepomper.com.

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