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White tears, White lies and Black pain in trial of officer who killed Black man in his own home

By Jihad Hassan Muhammad, Contributing Writer | Last updated: Oct 2, 2019 - 9:28:49 PM

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Former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger leaves the courtroom during a break in morning proceedings in her murder trial, Sept. 24, in Dallas. Guyger is accused of shooting her unarmed Black neighbor in his Dallas apartment.

DALLAS—The murder trial of a White former police officer, Amber Guyger, caught the spotlight a little over a year after her bizarre killing of unarmed Black man, Bothem Shem Jean, in his own home. At Final Call press time, both the defense and prosecution had rested their cases and jurors were asked to render a judgement on whether Ms. Guyger is guilty of murder or a lesser crime. She could also be found not guilty.

She insists she mistook his apartment for her own. The onetime Dallas police officer had seemed unemotional, even apathetic during the trial. But defense attorneys said she was sorrowful for killing in self-defense and in her testimony she cried.

Prosecutors said there was no basis for self defense since Ms. Guyger’s life was never in danger.

She entered Mr. Jean’s apartment while he was watching television and eating ice cream the night of September 6, 2018.

Will the family of Mr. Jean receive justice, or will another onetime White law enforcement officer live free and unpunished after killing an unarmed and innocent Black person?

Judge Tammy Kemp, the Black woman who presides over the trial, has been firm in saying she wants the jury to decide the case free of influence caused by electronic devices, nodding of heads or gestures in her courtroom. The sequestered jury consists of two Whites, one Asian, four Latinos, and five Blacks. Four jurors are men, and eight are women. There are also four alternates.

The week was been an emotional one for the Jean family, who came from the island of St. Lucia for the trial. They began in Dallas on Sept. 22 by attending services at Cedar Crest Church of Christ where Mr. Jean could once be found singing in the choir and mentoring young people. His grandmother Gloria told those present it was important to not let her son become demonized as have other Black men who died at the hands of police.

“He was a good boy, a very loving child,” lamented his grandmother.

Jurors heard from Mr. Jean’s sister who spoke of how she still can’t believe he is gone. She shared the sense of great loss her family feels because of his death.

Perhaps the most emotional distress experienced by the family was a video showing emergency professionals trying with much vigor to save Mr. Jean, who was still breathing when they arrived. Some Jean family members sobbed leaving the courtroom as the video played.

Cheryl Smith, a longtime National Association of Black Journalists board member, multiplatform journalist and newspaper owner of the Texas Metro News, Garland Journal and I Messenger Media online, was in the courtroom.

“First, two officers and then paramedics worked diligently on Mr. Jean. They encouraged him as they performed CPR. You could hear the passion in their voice as they said, ‘come on chief, come on big man,’ while they tried to save his life. It was like they were praying for him to breathe,” Ms. Smith said.

Several veteran Dallas police personnel told The Final Call that Ms. Guyger’s protocol as a police officer required that she wait and call for back up if she perceived someone was in her apartment committing burglary. She should not have entered the dwelling by herself to take on any possible intruder, they said. Additionally, she should have been found administering CPR to try to prevent a fatality until paramedics arrived.

According to the defense, she did administer CPR. Video captures her pacing back and forth in the hall of the Southside Flats apartments on the phone minutes after shooting Mr. Jean. Immediately after shooting him, phone records show Ms. Guyger texted her patrol partner, Sr. Corporal Martin Rivera, saying, “I f----d up!” Prosecutors wondered how sorrowful she could be without even an attempt to save the life of Bothem Shem Jean.

Guyger defense attorneys described her as being on mental auto-pilot due to a grueling schedule that left her too tired to know she was at the wrong apartment, on the wrong floor with a red doormat. Text messages the defense wanted concealed from the jury, but were allowed by Judge Kemp, showed something else. It was revealed that Ms. Guyger, who was fired by the department after the shooting, and partner Rivera, a married man, were involved in a sexual relationship. Ms. Guyger wanted to see Sr. Corporal Rivera later that night, texting him about such desires shortly before arriving at Mr. Jean’s apartment.

The defense paints the picture of Mr. Guyger fearing for her life as she entered the apartment belonging to Mr. Jean. They contend she mistook him for an armed burglar and fired her weapon.

“Apparently, they were having some issues with the door, it’s supposed to make a roaring sound to let you know, but a red light came on the door with no sound,” said Ms. Smith. “They are saying that the door was not closed. She came in and the defense would have you to believe that some sort of struggle took place. But the trajectory of the bullet shows that her at 5’3 and him at 6’1 or so that the bullet was shot down. He could have conceivably been sitting down eating that bowl of ice cream as shown in the evidence when he was shot,” said Ms. Smith. Both the defense and prosecutors agreed there was no prior relationship between the two.

Ms. Guyger testified that she decided to be assigned in the Southeast section of Dallas, which is predominantly a Black community, because that’s where she would get the most training as a police officer because of high crime.

The defense attorney made a point to ask her about the neighborhood surrounding the Southside Flats, which she said was riddled with homeless people who jumped gates to sleep on patios and she did not fully feel safe when she walked her dog.

Brandt Jean, center, the brother of Botham Jean arrives with family members for the murder trial of former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger in Dallas, Sept. 24, 2019. Guyger is on trial for shooting and killing Botham Jean, her unarmed neighbor, in the Dallas apartment building they both lived in.

“I was scared that someone was in my apartment and was going to kill me,” she said through tears. “This is not about hate, I was scared.”

In her testimony Ms. Guyger stated how the Dallas Police Department drilled her during training to always see a suspect’s hands, calling out, “Let me see your hands!” Prosecutors said Ms. Guyger gave no such commands to Mr. Jean.

When prosecutors asked Ms. Guyger did she feel sympathy for Mr. Jean the night she killed him, the sympathy displayed during her testimony? Her response was yes. Moments later they showed her not crying as Mr. Jean’s dead body passed her as she sat in her sergeant’s squad car. She was seen on video cam appearing unemotional, looking at her phone.

During cross-examination, the prosecution told the jury Ms. Guyger never said Mr. Jean put her in fear, was armed and coming at her to her fellow officers or a 911 dispatcher.

Ms. Guyger said she performed basic life support. When asked she said, “I performed a little CPR.” There was no blood on her uniform to indicate she did. Prosecutors argued several times that Ms. Guyger put her needs and wants over a dying Mr. Jean—texting and not giving the dying man her undivided attention and walking away more than twice instead of administering life support while her first aid bag was inches away.

During her testimony it was also revealed that she did not rely on her training. Ms. Guyger admitted she had not taken a position of cover and concealment or dispatch a radio call for assistance with police help two minutes away. Her general orders were left unattended and void while Mr. Jean lay dying.

Ms. Guyger appeared to be caught in several lies during cross examination. She said she was tired yet was planning to go back to the gym. She said her morals stopped her from continuing a sexual relationship with her married partner yet was sexting for a meeting with her lover the night of Mr. Jean’s killing. Even her supposed fear of the surrounding community was found untrue. Prosecutors showed a text message she sent a fellow officer about how much she loved her new apartment and neighborhood.

“The intent to kill, which is one of the elements of murder, was satisfied by Amber Guyger in her shooting of Jean. She did not have to kill him, she could have called for backup, but instead she decided to kill him,” said Atty. Jeryl Christmas, who has dealt with police shooting cases and is based in St. Louis. Atty. Christmas said the self-defense argument should not stand. Mr. Christmas along with his colleague, Atty. Pamela Muhammad of Houston, Texas, helped residents of Ferguson fight charges in the aftermath of protests following the 2014 killing of Mike Brown Jr.

“Guyger’s defense is so ridiculous. It goes back to the old White supremacist theory that Black people don’t have rights that they are bound to even respect. The notion that this could even be presented by Guyger is totally absurd,” declared Atty. Muhammad. “Her theory is based on the idea that White people are entitled to more protection than Black people.”

“The fact that she can even say that she did not have the requisite intent to kill Bothem just because she shot, because she had all these things going in her head, this poor innocent and defenseless White female, etc. That defense is purely illogical for a trained police officer and full of bias that we see all the time,” said Atty. Muhammad. Atty. Christmas agreed.

Gwen L. Hodrick, licensed professional counselor and bestselling author, said a mental state tied to White supremacy in America is live, well, and present in the Amber Guyger case. “The history of this country has Africans being brought here to work as slaves, and in doing so being painted as animals, and as a threat who needed to be handled and shackled in order to keep us subservient to them. That still permeates with us today,” the mental health professional said.

“ ‘I have to put them in their place. If I feel like they are threatening me in any way, I have the right to do whatever I want, and this country is based off of rights,’ ” she argued is the immediate state of a Caucasian mind when dealing with Black people.

Alshaheed Muhammad, student minister of the Nation of Islam mosque in Dallas, added, “It’s the old European paradigm. In slavery the White women would accuse the Black man of raping her while she was engaging in something unethical or unChristian like, yet the White dominant male justice structure would do whatever they wanted to the Black man and call it justice. Amber Gugyer’s defense theory is no different.”

The trial drew quickly to a close, going to the jury Sept. 30 with the judge holding a brief session Sept. 28.

Ms. Smith was not optimistic with just five Blacks on the 12-person jury. “I have seen so many times when we think we are going to get justice because they are people that look like you on the panel. That is not necessarily so,” she said. “I don’t have any hope, I want people to look at the facts in front of them and act accordingly. How can someone not see the culpability of Amber Guyger?” she asked.

No matter the trial outcome, the Nation of Islam in Dallas is prepared to help keep Black people move wisely, said Minister Muhammad. “If she walks, we don’t want to see our people gunned down in the streets if there is protest. We help to make sure our people are safe and direct our minds to what the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan is organizing us to do, which to build our own community and separate from those who will not give us justice,” he said.