(DALLAS MORNING NEWS) — In the hour or so after Amber Guyger shot Botham Jean in his home, she got a visit from the president of Dallas’ biggest police union.
Testimony in Guyger’s murder trial Tuesday also revealed that Mike Mata, head of the Dallas Police Association, told his subordinate that night last September to shut off her in-car camera system so he and Guyger could speak in private.
In a hearing that took place outside the jury’s presence Tuesday, lead prosecutor Jason Hermus said Guyger was told not to say anything while the camera was on. He said turning it off and allowing her to interact with other officers gave her preferential treatment that wouldn’t have been given to an ordinary person in police custody.
“I think this investigation, from the very beginning, treated Amber Guyger differently because she was a police officer,” Hermus said.
Defense attorney Robert Rogers, however, said his client was waiting for an attorney and that Mata was protecting her right to an attorney.
State District Judge Tammy Kemp, who is presiding over the trial, asked the lawyers whether Mata was a licensed attorney in addition to being a police officer. Hermus said he didn’t believe so.
“I don’t believe he has the right to preserve her rights,” Kemp said.
Sgt. Breanna Valentine, who also testified Tuesday, said that once she learned Guyger was responsible for the shooting, it was her responsibility to take Guyger to her patrol car and isolate her from the situation.
But that wasn’t what happened, prosecutors said.
With the jury out of the room, Hermus showed footage of several people interacting with Guyger before and after Valentine placed her in the squad car. Some of them are Guyger’s friends and fellow officers, Hermus said, and Guyger can be seen hugging one of them.
At some point, Mata is seen removing Guyger from the squad car, surveillance footage from that night shows.
Valentine told the court that Mata, her superior because he’s been a sergeant longer than she has, then instructed her to turn off a squad car camera that normally captures the movements and conversations of a person placed in custody inside a police car, and she did.
Valentine later said she would have left the squad car camera running if she knew Guyger had been off-duty during the shooting. Before the camera was cut off, video captured Guyger texting on her phone.
Kemp ultimately ruled Tuesday that the prosecution couldn’t ask Valentine about any “irregularities” in the interactions between Mata and Guyger in the presence of the jury.
Reached by phone, Mata declined to comment saying he could be called to testify.
Under Dallas Police Department policy, officers are allowed to consult a “companion” officer at the time of an officer-involved shooting. But it’s unclear whether the circumstances of Jean’s death fit the bill of an officer-involved shooting because Guyger was off duty at the time.
Officers can terminate a recording when there is no likelihood of “anything else evidentiary or law enforcement value occurring.” It is a violation of the department’s general orders for “an officer to fail to activate the body worn camera or intentionally terminate a recording in order to commit a violation of the department policy or law.”
A Dallas police spokeswoman declined to comment Tuesday when asked if the exchange violated department policies.