Dallas police chief says she ‘waited until critical portion of investigation’ was done before firing Amber Guyger
Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall has fired the police officer who shot a man in his apartment after the chief previously said she couldn’t fire her.
Amber Guyger, 30, who is charged with manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Botham Shem Jean, 26, on Sept. 6, was fired Monday.
Attorneys for Jean’s family said the firing was bittersweet and “the first step towards justice” for Jean.
Guyger has said in the past that she mistook Jean’s apartment for hers and opened fire because she believed Jean was an intruder.
Guyger was fired because she engaged in adverse conduct when she was arrested for manslaughter on Sept. 6, an internal affairs investigation concluded, the Dallas Police Department said in a news release.
Guyger, who has the right to appeal her firing under civil service rules, was hired in November 2013 and assigned to the Southeast Patrol Division.
Previously, Hall said she could not fire Guyger before the completion of an administrative investigation.
Her chief of staff, Thomas Taylor, said that an administrative investigation was on hold until a criminal investigation into Guyger was complete.
Thursday, Hall said she did not want to risk interfering with the criminal investigation by making a decision about Guyger’s employment.
“As an employer, DPD can compel Officer Guyger to provide a statement during a DPD administrative investigation and those statements given to DPD could potentially compromise the criminal investigation,” Hall said in a written statement.
Attorneys for the family do not believe that Guyger’s firing will have any impact on the criminal investigation, according to Daryl Washington, one of the lawyers representing the family.
However, the attorney said it was a decision that should have come earlier.
“Unfortunately, people had to be in outrage about this situation before the chief made a decision we thought should have been made a week or so ago,” Washington said.
But it is also the belief of the family’s attorneys that Hall has properly vetted the decision to fire Guyger and that it will not impact the criminal matter, an opinion apparently shared by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, who issued the following statement:
“I have heard the calls for this action from many, including the Jean family, and I agree that this is right decision in the interest of justice for Botham Jean and the citizens of Dallas. The swift termination of any officer who engages in misconduct that leads to the loss of innocent life is essential if the Dallas Police Department is to gain and maintain the public trust. I know Chief Hall agrees with me on that and I appreciate her leadership. Once again, she’s made the right call.”
Lee Merritt, another attorney representing the Jean family, said on Twitter that Hall was right to be reticent about the decision.
Defense attorneys for Roy Oliver — a former Balch Springs police officer who was convicted of killing Jordan Edwards, 15 — argued that information gathered from Garrity statements during the internal investigation influenced the criminal investigation and violated his 5th amendment right against self-incrimination, he said.
“Chief (Hall) is operating w/ an abundance of caution,” Merritt tweeted.
In the past, Merritt called for a murder charge to be filed against Guyger and he renewed that call Monday in a post on his Facebook page, calling Guyger’s firing an initial victory.
“We are committed to seeing through the next steps of the process of a proper murder indictment, conviction and appropriate sentencing,” Meritt’s post said. “Our office continues to conduct its parallel investigation into this matter as we prepare a 1983 civil rights action against Guyger and the City of Dallas for the wrongful death of Mr. Jean.”
Later Monday, Pastor Frederick Haynes called again for more transparency in the investigation.
“The absence of transparency is really what continues this vicious cycle...as a consequence it’s possible for somebody to get killed in their living room,” he said. “We still are calling for transparency, we’re calling for justice and we’re calling for accountability.”
He said the Jean family still has unanswered questions.
In a statement earlier Monday, attorneys for his family said: “As Botham Shem Jean’s family has his homegoing service in St. Lucia this week, this announcement of Amber Guyger’s termination from the Dallas Police Department is bittersweet for Botham’s family. While nothing can bring him back, DPD’s firing of Guyger is the first step towards justice for Botham Shem Jean.”
Before being fired, Guyger told officers that while off-duty, but in her police uniform, she “inserted a unique door key, with an electronic chip, into the door key hole of what turned out to be Jean’s apartment. The door, which was slightly ajar prior to Guyger’s arrival, fully opened under the force of the key insertion,” according to a search warrant affidavit.
The affidavit says that the door being opened alerted Jean to Guyger’s presence. It says Guyger described the apartment as being dark and she thought “she had encountered a burglar, which was described as a large silhouette, across the room in her apartment.”
Guyger drew her firearm, “gave verbal commands that were ignored by (Jean), and then she fired two shots.”
Jean was shot once and died.
A search warrant written on Sept. 7 and signed by Judge Brandon Birmingham tells a different story. An officer within the police department told The Dallas Morning News that the search warrant was written before Guyger was interviewed.
“An off-duty Dallas Police Officer, who was wearing a full Dallas Police uniform, was attempting to enter apartment number 1478, with a set of keys,” it says. “An unknown male, inside the apartment, confronted the officer at the door. A neighbor stated he heard an exchange of words, immediately followed by at least two gunshots.”
While the arrest warrant describes Jean as being “across the room,” the search warrant says he confronted Guyger at his door.
The Morning News reported that evidence found at the crime scene supports Guyger’s account that Jean was across the room when he was shot.
The warrant was for the collection of evidence, including shell casings, bullets, firearms, ballistic vest, keys, possible video, any narcotics and and other trace evidence such as blood.
The warrant doesn’t say if investigators were looking for narcotics that Guyger possibly had, or if they believed they were in Jean’s apartment. Guyger’s blood was drawn to test for drugs and alcohol, Hall has said.
The arrest warrant also doesn’t include witness statements, which Merritt pointed out on Monday.
Merritt said that two witnesses, who are sisters and residents of the apartment complex, gave statements that contradict the arrest affidavit.
“One happened to be in a quiet room reading a book so she was in the best position to hear things,” Merritt said. “She heard pounding at the door. The other one (witness) was in the living room (of her own apartment) watching TV. She also heard the same pounding at the door.”
He said the key witness, who was reading the book, heard shouting.
“She heard, ‘Let me in!’ followed by ‘Let me in!’ in an elevated tone and then she heard more pounding at the door,” Merritt said. “Then shortly thereafter she heard gunshots.”
Police discovered a little more than 10 grams of marijuana during the execution of a search warrant at Jean’s apartment, which prompted Merritt to cry foul when news of the discovery was publicly released.
“It was an unnecessary, tactless, black eye and quite frankly the Dallas Police Department should have sealed those warrants,” Merritt said at the time. “I want the media and public officials to know what kind of damage they can do when they criminalize the victim.”
Other search warrants have been executed to recover door lock data from Guyger’s and Jean’s apartments, and show that photographs, videos and laser measurements of firearm trajectory were taken in Jean’s apartment and gunshot residue from his apartment’s door frame and kitchen wall were collected, a story by Star-Telegram media partner WFAA said.
Another search warrant allowed investigators to collect communications from property management connected to the shooting and seize the logs from access doors and gates and an elevator access door lock as well as a lock audit report for each of their apartments, the WFAA story said.
After the shooting, blood was taken from Guyger to test for drugs and alcohol. The results of that test, if returned, have not been made public.
Sara Mokuria, cofounder of Mothers Against Police Brutality, called for those results to be made public, along with the 911 call that Guyger made the night of the shooting.
Investigators have also requested surveillance footage from Ring, a home security company, from nearby townhomes about a block away from where Guyger and Jean lived, according to WFAA.
Guyger was arrested for manslaughter the evening of Sept. 9 and released about an hour later on a $300,000 bond.
Jean, who is from the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, is a graduate of Harding University and worked at PriceWaterhouseCooper in Dallas.
Several protests in the region and nationwide have been held in reaction to Jean’s death.
In one of the more recent protests, nine people were arrested in Arlington for blocking traffic at the intersection of Collins Street and Randol Mill Road during a Dallas Cowboy’s football game on Sept. 16. All nine were released Tuesday, 40 hours after they were arrested.
Lesa Pamplin, the attorney who arranged bond for the nine protesters, said they were all released on personal recognizance bonds, which means they did not have to pay any out-of-pocket funds to be freed.
On Monday, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States released its first statement about Jean’s death.
“Botham Shem Jean had committed no crime, nor was he contemplating or conspiring to commit any crime,” the group said. “From every indication, Botham Shem Jean was a proud product of our Caribbean Civilization — bright, God-fearing, respectful or others, humane and full of promise.”
The group said it wants it to be known “to the United States of America and indeed to the entire world that we stand firmly in solidarity with the family and friends of Botham Shem Jean, and with the government and poeple of Saint Lucia in their demand for justice.”
Among its many purposes, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States works to protect human and legal rights.
This story includes information from Star-Telegram archives.
Contributing: Nichole Manna of the Star-Telegram