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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

October 23, 2019   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

National Recap: Murder trial begins for Dallas officer

The case of a white, female former police officer who killed an unarmed black man in his Dallas apartment last year began trial Sept. 23. She is being charged with murder, and she has pleaded not guilty. 

In September 2018, police officer Amber Guyger was returning home from a patrol shift when she entered what she allegedly thought to be her own apartment. She walked into the dark apartment and saw a man inside, according to her testimony. Allegedly thinking the man was a burglar, she fired her weapon twice, striking his torso once and killing him. 

The apartment she entered actually belonged to Botham Shem Jean, a 26-year-old St. Lucia native. His apartment was one floor above her own. Guyger said she didn’t realize she was in the wrong apartment until she turned on the lights after the shooting.

On a 911 call minutes later, Guyger reported the shooting and repeated more than a dozen times that she thought she had been in her own apartment. 

“I thought I was in my apartment,” she said on the 911 call. “I shot a guy, thinking it was my apartment.” 

At the time of the shooting, Guyger was an off-duty police officer and a fouryear veteran of the Dallas Police Department. Three days later, she was charged with manslaughter. She was placed on administrative leave and later fired by the Dallas Police Department. Two months after the initial charge, she was indicted on a murder charge by a Dallas County grand jury. 

The day after the shooting, the Dallas Police Chief announced that Guyger’s blood was tested for drug and alcohol use. The results of the test have not been released publicly but might be used as evidence in the trial. 

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, one of the lawyers for the Jean family, said the shooting is an example of the racial bias that threatens black Americans daily. Jean was one of 18 unarmed black men shot and killed by police in 2018. The shooting sparked outrage among members of the Dallas community and people nationwide. For years, Jean had gone out of his way to avoid regular encounters with the police because of his identity, according to a New York Times interview with his mother.  

“The family has no doubt in their mind that she shot Botham because she saw a black man and she thought, ‘criminal,’” he said.  

If the jury decides to convict Guyger, it could find her guilty of murder. If convicted of murder, she could face a life sentence in prison. It is also possible it could convict her on a slightly lesser charge, such as manslaughter. The premise of the case is not to determine whether or not Guyger shot Jean but to determine whether or not the shooting was a case of mistaken identity and an act of selfdefense.

Brontë Cook can be reached at bcook4@ithaca.edu