The trial of Amber Guyger, the former Dallas police officer who fatally shot Botham Jean, a 26-year-old Black man, in his own home, continues. Evidence the prosecution presented revealed Guyger was given special treatment upon her arrest. Mike Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association, told a subordinate to shut off her in-car camera system so he could speak to Guyger off record, testimony revealed.
This sort of preferential treatment is not a privilege other suspects are granted when they are being taken into custody. As the Miranda Warning states, anything a suspect says in the presence of an officer can be used against them in court.
Lead prosecutor Jason Hermus said during a Sept. 24 hearing that Guyger was advised not to say anything while the camera was on. Guyger’s defense attorney Robert Rogers, however, said Mata was protecting Guyger’s right to an attorney.
State District Judge Tammy Kemp is presiding over Guyger’s trial. Kemp said she did not believe Mata, an officer, had the right to preserve the rights of Guyger, a suspect.
Sgt. Breanna Valentine was the officer sent to take Guyger into her squad car. She said she obeyed Mata’s orders to turn off the in-car camera because she was not aware Guyger was off duty at the time of the shooting.
Dallas Police Department’s policy allows officers to consult a “companion” officer if involved in a shooting, however, because Guyger had just finished her shift and was not technically working, the application of that rule is unclear.
The policy says officers may stop a recording if the suspect has no chance of saying anything else that is of legal value, but it is a violation to terminate or fail to start a bodycam or other recording in order to violate department policy or law.
It is unknown what conversations occurred with the camera off. When the Dallas Morning News contacted the Dallas Police Department for information on what transpired, they declined to comment.
During the hearing, Hermus displayed the footage of Guyger, which included videos of people interacting with her before and after she entered the car. The video shows another officer hugging Guyger, once again raising questions of whether she received preferential treatment officers would not have granted to a civilian. Before the camera in the car was shut off, it captured Guyger texting on her phone. Surveillance footage shows Mata later removing Guyger from the car.
A review of other officers’ body camera footage revealed what happened when the officers arrived.
“He’s in here … I thought it was my apartment. I thought it was my apartment,” Guyger says to the officers. She had repeated that she believed Jean’s apartment was hers nearly 20 times during her initial 911 call.
“I’m an off-duty officer,” Guyger said in the call. “I thought I was in my apartment, and I shot a guy thinking he was, thinking it was my apartment. I thought it was my apartment. I’m f—–. Oh my God. I’m sorry.”
Bodycam footage also shows officers frantically trying to revive Jean.
The issue of whether Guyger had the criminal intent to murder Jean is the largest question in this trial. Questions of whether she was given preferential treatment are less relevant, and Kemp later stopped the questioning surrounding that issue.
There’s no question as to whether Guyger shot Jean, rather, the issue is whether she made a genuine, “reasonable” mistake in believing his apartment was her own and believing Jean was an intruder, despite various sensory cues — like Jean’s red doormat and the fact that the door was unlocked — that should have made her realize she was on the wrong floor.
Texas’ Castle Doctrine — a “stand your ground” law — allows for people to use force if they are in their own home during an intrusion.
If the prosecution cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Guyger could not have reasonably mistaken Jean’s apartment for her own, she may not be found guilty of murder.