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(DALLAS NEWS) – Attorneys for the parents of a 26-year-old man shot and killed in his own apartment by an off-duty Dallas police officer in uniform say they are close to filing a lawsuit against the city in federal court.
Although Amber Guyger wasn’t on the clock, a court could find the city liable if she used her authority as a police officer when she shot Botham Jean. But the city will certainly argue Guyger acted as a startled resident returning to what she thought was her home.
Attorneys Daryl Washington and Lee Merritt, who represent Jean’s parents, Allison and Bertrum Jean, said the Dallas Police Department’s initial handling of the Sept. 6 shooting shows that Guyger, 30, was treated as a police officer and not an average resident.
A spokeswoman for the city did not respond to a request for comment Monday.
At first, Dallas police investigated the fatal shooting as an officer-involved shooting. But then Police Chief U. Reneé Hall halted that inquiry and handed over the case to the Texas Rangers.
“Clearly, this is an officer-involved shooting. There is no question about it,” Washington said.
A search-warrant affidavit in the case says Guyger “stated that she issued ‘verbal commands,'” Washington said. “She also indicated she thought there was an active crime taking place.”
Guyger told police she mistook Jean’s apartment in the Cedars for her own and thought he was a burglar. Jean, an accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, lived on the fourth floor, directly above Guyger.
She told police the door was unlocked and ajar when she arrived, but Jean’s parents said he would have locked and closed his door. The Dallas County district attorney’s office obtained a search warrant to seize the electronic locks from both apartment doors, and the data could confirm or conflict with Guyger’s version of events.
Washington and Merritt also represent the family of Jordan Edwards, a 15-year-old boy shot and killed by a Balch Springs police officer last year as the car he rode in drove away from the officer. A Dallas County jury convicted Roy Oliver of murder in August and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. The federal civil lawsuit against Balch Springs, in eastern Dallas County, is still pending.
In Jean’s death, much of the focus has been on Guyger’s actions, Washington said. But the courts and the public should examine what the Jean’s attorneys say is a lack of training by the department.
“It makes you wonder, with the training she should have had, why was this incident even allowed to take place?” Washington said.
“This is not just an isolated situation with the Dallas Police Department,” he said. “These are situations that have been occurring over a period of time and, until we totally address the training issues, we’re going to continue to have these problems.”
Jean’s parents say they want their lawsuit to not just focus on how their son died, but to change how police officers are trained about when to fire their weapons.
“When will it stop? When?” Bertrum Jean told The Dallas Morning News. “I thought the police were there for the protection of its citizens.”
Washington and Merritt said Guyger should have been fired sooner than Sept. 24 — 18 days after she killed Jean and the same day Botham Jean was buried in his home country of St. Lucia in a cemetery overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
The Jeans also fault Hall for turning over the case to the Rangers and say Dallas police should have kept investigating. Hall has said she turned over the case in an effort to be more transparent.
Allison and Bertrum Jean also are frustrated that Texas Rangers arrested Guyger on a charge of manslaughter, not murder.
But after meeting with Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson last week, the Jeans said they were comforted and satisfied with how prosecutors are handling the case. Neither they nor Johnson would say whether prosecutors will recommend a grand jury indict Guyger on a murder charge. The district attorney’s office has interviewed more than 200 witnesses and still needs to speak with more, Johnson said.
Washington said there was an outpouring of support from city officials at first. But that has slowed now that nearly seven weeks have passed since Jean’s death.
“When it first happened, everybody was talking to the family. We heard from the mayor. We heard from everyone,” Washington said. “Now that weeks have passed by, there’s not as much talking, and we just want individuals to know that the city of Dallas, the Dallas Police Department and all the entities involved with this matter need to be held accountable.”