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(DALLAS MORNING NEWS) — Going to the wrong apartment at the South Side Flats was a common experience for residents, particularly those who lived on Amber Guyger’s and Botham Jean’s floors, an investigator testified Wednesday in Guyger’s murder trial.
Ranger David Armstrong said that even he had trouble determining which floor he was on while investigating the fired Dallas police officer’s shooting of Jean, her 26-year-old neighbor.
Guyger, 31, was off duty but still in her police uniform the night of Sept. 6, 2018, when she fatally shot Jean, an accountant, at the South Side Flats apartment complex near downtown Dallas. She has said she went to the wrong floor and mistook Jean for a burglar after believing she was in her own apartment.
The defense has called the shooting an “awful and tragic, but innocent” mistake, while prosecutors have questioned how Guyger missed many visual cues, such as Jean’s red doormat, that indicated she was at the wrong apartment.
On Tuesday, Armstrong testified that at the time of the shooting the apartment building didn’t offer many visual clues to indicate which floor a resident was on. During cross-examination, he said a black placard near the elevator of the parking garage was the only indication of the floor number, and it was a sign a driver had to look hard for.
“There were no clear obvious signs showing what level you were on,” he testified when questioned by Robert Rogers, one of Guyger’s attorneys.
Rogers showed the jury several photos of the third and fourth floors of the building side by side, and asked Armstrong if there were differences. He noted the numbers on each apartment weren’t on the doors, but above eye-level and to the left of each door.
“If you’re looking at eye level, there’s absolutely no difference, correct?” Rogers asked Armstrong while the jurors viewed the photos.
“That is correct,” Armstrong replied. He added that the apartment building has since added more visual indicators to make it clear which floor a resident is on.
The Ranger noted that, during his investigation, he heard from several residents who went to the wrong apartment, particularly residents on the third and fourth floors.
Armstrong testified that he led a team that interviewed 297 of the 349 residents at the apartment complex, and 15 percent — 46 of those interviewed — had walked to the wrong floor and put their key in the door. The percentage was higher for residents on the third and fourth floors, where 38 residents had gotten confused.
Of all the residents interviewed, Armstrong said 93 of the residents interviewed had previously parked on the wrong floor in the parking garage, 76 of them residents living on the third or fourth floor.
On Tuesday, when asked by prosecutors about the regular occurrence of residents going to the wrong door, Armstrong said Guyger’s case was the only situation in which someone was shot.
Armstrong, who obtained a manslaughter warrant for Guyger three days after the shooting, said Wednesday that he didn’t believe had Guyger committed a crime. He was speaking outside the presence of the jury and being questioned by Guyger’s defense.
“After finishing your investigation and looking at the totality of the circumstances and considering everything, do you believe today that you have probable cause to believe that Amber Guyger committed a crime?” Rogers asked.
“Based on the totality of the circumstances, based on the complete investigation, no, sir,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong said he believed Guyger acted reasonably after perceiving Jean as a deadly threat.
After prosecutors argued that Armstrong’s opinion could confuse the jury, state District Judge Tammy Kemp ruled that Armstrong could not testify to Guyger’s reasonableness during the shooting, nor could he give testimony on where he believed Jean had been located in his apartment when he was shot.
Prior testimony, photos and video showed many items in the apartment were moved as police and paramedics tried to resuscitate Jean.
Before she made the ruling, Kemp sent the jury out of the room so she could rewatch body-cam footage of officers arriving at Jean’s apartment and attempting to save his life.
As the video filled three large screens in the courtroom, Jean’s parents, Bertrum and Allison Jean, grew increasingly upset. They left the courtroom when it was shown Tuesday.
Jean’s father Bertrum Jean looked away toward the courtroom wall. At one point, he put his hands over his ears to block out the sound.
He glanced up at one point and then quickly looked away from the video of officers desperately trying to revive his son. A family friend patted his shoulder.
Prosecutor LaQuita Long sat on the court bench in front of the Jeans whispering as they looked away.
When the video stopped, the Jeans stood. Allison Jean looked anguished and tears fell from her face as she and her husband walked out of the courtroom.
For the next several minutes, every time the courtroom door opened, a low wail could be heard from the hallway.
Kemp didn’t realize Jean’s family had still been in the courtroom as the video played, showing him dying on his apartment floor.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said, raising a hand to her forehead. “I didn’t even give any thought to the victim’s family — the alleged victim’s family being here.”
Wednesday’s testimony was initially delayed after Kemp told attorneys a female juror had a “professional relationship” with Armstrong.
Armstrong was initially called to testify Tuesday, in the second day of the trial, and showed the jury video of his sweep through Jean’s apartment.
The juror was questioned in private about the matter, and testimony soon continued uninterrupted.
Also Wednesday, an analyst with the Dallas County district attorney’s office walked jurors through a timeline of Guyger’s and Jean’s locations on the day of Sept. 6, showing the times her panicked 911 call was placed and the times of texts she sent her police partner, with whom she had a sexual relationship, that day.
Jurors also heard from a fourth neighbor of Jean who lived on the fourth floor of the complex where he lived. Three others took the stand Tuesday.
All four testified that they heard gunshots the night of Sept. 6, 2018, but when asked by the prosecution if they had heard any loud police commands before that, each said no.
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