By Lauren Rearick
On September, 6, 2018, Botham Jean, a Black man who worked as an accountant and served as a church choir director, was shot and killed by a white police officer in his own home. A little over a year later, on Tuesday (October 1), a Texas jury found Amber Guyger guilty of his murder, The Dallas Morning News reported. She was later sentenced to ten years of prison without the possibility of probation.
At the time of the murder, Guyger had completed a shift with the Dallas Police Department where she had worked for four years, NBC News noted. She lived in the same apartment complex as Jean, in the apartment right below his; instead of parking on her floor, she parked on his before walking into his apartment instead of her own. It was then that she opened fire, and killed Jean.
He had been sitting on his own couch, eating ice cream and watching television, before Guyger trespassed into his apartment. Guyger later claimed she mistook the 26-year-old for someone breaking into her apartment, even though she was not in her home. She shot him twice, and later claimed she acted in self-defense, ABC News reported. She was arrested and charged with manslaughter on September 9, 2018, with a bail set at $300,000; two weeks later, she was fired from the Dallas police force for “adverse conduct.”
After shooting Jean, Guyger called 911 but apparently administered “minimal” aid while she waited for help to arrive. She told the jury during trial, "I never wanted to take an innocent person's life. I'm so sorry. This is not about hate — it's about being scared."
Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Jason Fine called Guyger’s “self-defense” claim “garbage,” and told the jury: “This has to do with that defendant making unreasonable decisions that put her in that seat and [Jean] in the ground.” Prosecution also noted that Jean’s apartment featured the only red doormat in the complex, NPR reported; it’s not clear how Guyger would have missed that marker.
Testimony in the trial began on September 23, and the jury started deliberating on Monday (September 30). A verdict was reached in less than 24 hours, CNN reported, and the jury ruled on her sentence on Wednesday (October 2).
“Nothing will bring Botham back, but today his family has found some measure of justice," attorney Benjamin Crump said in a statement on behalf of the Jean family. "What happened on September 6, 2018, is clear to everyone: This officer saw a black man and shot, without reason and without justification. The jury’s thoughtful verdict sets a powerful precedent for future cases, telling law enforcement officers that they cannot hide behind the badge but instead will face justice for their wrongful actions.”
The conviction comes amid continued instances of police brutality and lackluster responses from the criminal justice system. Such violence, especially by non-Black officers against Black victims, dates back centuries, and recent instances have driven more and more people to speak out against undue force.
Just months before Guyger was found guilty, the Department of Justice refused to press criminal charges against the police officer who in 2014 put Eric Garner in an illegal chokehold that led to his death, five years after his last words — “I can’t breathe” — became a rallying cry in the fight against police brutality. That same year, a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri killed 18-year-old Michael Brown; his death — as well as Garner’s death, and the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling in 2016, and countless others — sparked widespread protests by Black Lives Matter activists and allies calling for justice and better accountability for instances of violence that occurred at the hands of police.
On Tuesday (October 1), one of the attorneys for the Jean family, Lee Merritt, touched on the potential nationwide significance of the jury’s verdict: "It's a signal that the tide is going to change here,” he said. "Police officers are going to be held accountable for their actions, and we believe this is going to change the policing culture all over the world.”