The indictment and conviction of a police officer doesn’t happen often in America, research has shown.
And yet, across the DFW area, five officers have been indicted in connection with deaths over the past two years — in Dallas, Balch Springs, Arlington and Farmers Branch. Three of those officers were convicted on their charges, including former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who was found guilty of murder Tuesday morning.
Guyger shot and killed 26-year-old Botham Jean in his own apartment on Sept. 6, 2018. She said she thought she had walked into her own apartment and Jean was an intruder, causing her to fear for her life.
At issue in the trial was whether that reaction was reasonable or unreasonable for a 5-year veteran of the department trained to gauge potential threats.
The guilty verdict sent out shock waves that rippled out of Dallas County and were felt around the country. Social media commentators expressed genuine surprise to see a murder conviction for Guyger.
“I am honestly stunned,” tweeted Imani Gandy, a legal analyst for Rewire News. “I really thought she was going to get away with it.”
Between 2015 and mid-2017, only about 35 percent of officers arrested in fatal on-duty shootings were convicted of manslaughter or murder charges, according to a 2017 research paper from Philip Stinson of Bowling Green State University. Stinson — one of the leading experts in America on shootings carried out by police — estimates between 900 and 1,000 people are shot and killed by officers every year.
In Texas, only seven of the 880 officers who were involved in shootings between 2010 and 2015 faced charges, an investigation by the Texas Tribune showed.
But Lee Merritt, one of the attorneys representing the Jean family, said following the Tuesday verdict he believes the outcome is “a signal that the tide is going to change here.”
And, in Texas, there have already been signs the tide is changing, albeit slowly, over the past two years.
In December 2017, former Farmers Branch officer Ken Johnson was convicted of murder and felony aggravated assault in connection with a March 2016 incident in which he — while off-duty — chased down two teens in Addison who had stolen seats from his SUV, fatally shooting one of them and seriously injuring another. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
About eight months later, in August 2018, ex-Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver was found guilty of murder in the April 2017 death of 15-year-old Jordan Edwards, when Oliver fatally shot him while firing into the back of a 2004 black Impala. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
This past May, a Tarrant County Grand Jury handed up an indictment for Arlington Officer Bau Tran, who shot and killed O’Shae Terry, 24, on Sept. 1, 2018, after another officer stopped Terry. His case is still active.
And, in late June, another Farmers Branch officer was indicted on a murder charge. Michael Dunn fatally shot Juan “Johnny” Moreno, 35, on June 12 in Dallas while firing into a moving truck. The case is active.
Guyger’s conviction marks the first time a Dallas police officer has been convicted of murder in more than 40 years. After Darrell Lee Cain shot and killed 12-year-old Santos Rodriguez in 1973, he was convicted of murder.
The first-ever Tarrant County police officer to be tried in an on-duty killing was acquitted of murder in 1989, according to Star-Telegram archives.
Sansom Park officer Edward Deon Haynes shot and killed Bradley Pearlman, a 26-year-old Boyd construction worker in May 1987. Although prosecutors believed the shooting wasn’t legally justified, according to the archived story, they accepted the outcome and said jurors’ ruling that it wasn’t murder was probably right.