There’s just no way to wrap your head around the image: With the workday behind you, snug for the evening in your own apartment, the place you feel safest, you’re confronted by a uniformed police officer with a gun.
That’s the last thing Botham Jean saw.
A horror show unfolded Thursday night at the South Side Flats, just blocks away from police headquarters. In effect, an off-duty Dallas cop staged a deadly home invasion — only, by her account, she thought it was her home that had been invaded.
Here’s the thing, though: The possibility that her actions were unwitting doesn’t absolve Amber Guyger, who was finally arrested Sunday and booked into the Kaufman County jail on a manslaughter charge. She quickly made bail and left through the back of the facility.
The police officer had moved to the Cedars apartment complex about a month ago. She had served in the Dallas Police Department for almost five years and earned a spot fighting crime in some of the hottest spots in the southeast part of the city.
She also had shot a man in the stomach in 2017 when he grabbed her Taser during an arrest that turned violent. He survived and is serving prison time. She was not indicted in the incident.
Based on what Guyger told investigating officers, she had never met Botham Jean before she ended his life. But Jean, a native of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, sounds like the kind of big-hearted person we all would like to count among our friends.
Deeply religious, almost bubbly with joy and committed to whatever task was in front of him, the 26-year-old known by many as “Bo” was willing to go the extra mile for most anyone with whom he crossed paths. He was a mentor to at-risk youths. Song leader in his sanctuary. Devoted son and brother. Active alumnus at Harding University in Arkansas. Valued employee at the PricewaterhouseCoopers accounting and auditing firm.
Botham Jean was “exactly the sort of citizen we want to have in the city of Dallas,” Mayor Mike Rawlings said Saturday.
“Mr. Jean was an amazing individual, and he is what we as parents hope our children turn out to be,” Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata said.
Statements like those are what you would expect, especially given the tensions between Dallas law enforcement and the city’s residents of color. And Botham Jean does sound like a really special guy.
But all of that is beside the point. Whether or not he led a near-perfect life and had a sterling character matters not one bit. Every time an unarmed civilian is killed by a cop, the social fabric frays a little further and faith in the rule of law takes a grave hit.
That Jean, a black man, was killed by a white cop only adds to the tragedy. A sacred contract exists between police and the people they protect and serve. We grant them extraordinary powers and need them to do their duty to keep the rest of us safe. We also expect them to use those powers wisely.
None of the meager facts known so far, or the hints dropped by sources with inside knowledge, alter that fundamental duty.
Even the scenario most sympathetic to Guyger — she was off duty, she parked on the wrong floor of the parking garage, she thought she was entering her own apartment, the door was unlocked and lights were out — doesn’t give her license to be so quick on the trigger.
As crazy as her story sounds, it may be true. Perhaps this was a deadly playing out of what neuroscience tells us: Shifting one’s perception is akin to moving a mountain. If she believed she was at her apartment, she literally might not see evidence to the contrary — like the apartment number on the wall or an unfamiliar red doormat.
But that doesn’t lessen her responsibility. Even if she believed the apartment was hers, what would justify her decision to shoot?
The bizarre nature of this story makes it all the more important that law enforcement presents the facts to the public as expediently as possible. In the absence of much real information, social media users are offering up all sorts of wildly inaccurate information and jumping to crazy-making conclusions.
Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall says getting to the bottom of this case is the aim of her department. Repeatedly since this story began unwinding Thursday night, she has stressed the need to be as transparent as possible.
She says part of that effort is bringing in the Texas Rangers to head up the investigation. But after three days of silence on the Rangers’ part, what some in law enforcement would characterize as an agency methodically doing its work began to look a lot like foot-dragging.
People were understandably angry about the delay in issuing a formal charge. Especially after police said Friday they were seeking an arrest warrant for manslaughter, then the chief said Saturday a judge had not signed a warrant because the Rangers had learned new information and wanted to investigate further.
Perhaps with Guyger now charged, a complete picture of Thursday night’s tragedy will emerge. Prudence is a virtue, but prolonged silence in a situation as fraught as this one can only make a crazy time even crazier.