Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger was arrested, charged with manslaughter, and released on bond over the weekend after killing a neighbor in his apartment on Thursday night.
Guyger, 30, walked into Botham Jean’s flat believing it was her own after the end of her shift. The officer lives in a third-floor apartment at the Southside Flats complex but parked on the fourth floor of the building’s garage and walked into an apartment one floor above her own, police and city sources told the Dallas Morning News.
Video filmed by neighbors shows Guyger pacing the fourth floor hallway and captures someone — reportedly the officer — sobbing in anguish moments after the killing.
Guyger’s arrest came a bit slower than expected. Dallas Police Chief Renee Hall announced her force was seeking a manslaughter warrant on Friday afternoon, but she was not arrested and charged until Sunday evening. Investigators from the Texas Rangers, who took over the case Friday at Hall’s request, opted to wait and gather more information over the weekend before securing the warrant.
Delays are common in investigations of police officers. But Dallas authorities are not invoking the special procedures used after all on-duty shootings in Jean’s slaying because Guyger was off shift.
The designation of Guyger’s killing of Jean as a standard criminal matter may mean that less information than usual becomes publicly available about the officer. The Dallas Police Department’s line-of-duty shootings procedures render substantial information public about incidents where an officer uses lethal force in the field, but Guyger is being treated as a civilian defendant. The Dallas force referred questions to the Rangers, who did not immediately respond to questions about Guyger’s roughly five-year tenure with the department.
Guyger was previously involved in one on-duty shooting, however. A man named Uvaldo Perez grabbed an officer’s Taser during a May 2017 encounter in Pleasant Grove, according to the DPD’s public information blog and local news reports from the time, prompting Guyger to open fire. Perez survived.
“What I am asking you is, don’t make your decisions about who the Dallas Police Department is who the chief is based on what you see across this country. Give me an opportunity to show you who I am and show you who the Dallas Police Department is in this leadership, and then make a decision,” Hall, who’s been in office for just a year, said Saturday at a public forum.
The comments were both an acknowledgment of the nationwide pattern of officers rallying around their own in even the most egregious on-duty killings, and a partial rebuttal to wild, unsourced rumors that have spread online since Guyger killed Jean. The panel moderator asked Hall if the officer and the dead man had any sort of relationship other than being neighbors, likely because some anonymous Twitter accounts have sought to link the two based solely on pictures posted to social media showing that Jean knew a dark-haired white woman. Guyger is blonde. There is no reason to think the two had any connection.
“I have no idea. We have not substantiated that,” Hall said Saturday when asked about the baseless online speculation.
While misinformation and innuendo surely spread at word-of-mouth cases after police killings in earlier eras, the digital-age version can be far more damaging. Just as the web has made it easier to distribute both verified information and wild rumor, the spiking distrust in authorities of all kinds — from police to news media — primes the populace to entertain a wider cut of what’s out there.
Where such false narratives take hold, they can be difficult to break — and even when investigators can eventually prove that officers at the scene were truthful in their explanations of a fatal-force incident, the dishonest version retains power in communities that have learned to distrust law enforcement over decades of daily humiliations and abuses.
Several recent incidents where police killed someone who had a gun should have produced lingering inquiries into the tactics and training that officers used to initiate contact with the person killed, but instead turned into simplistic disputes over whether or not there was a gun present at all. Thurman Blevins, killed this summer by Minneapolis police, and Harith Augustus, killed weeks prior in Chicago, were each armed. In each case, the hours and days after the killings were crowded with outrage, protest, and repeat claims that police had killed an unarmed man for no reason. In each case, video both made clear the dead men had firearms and called into question the tactical escalations of the situations undertaken by police — though the simpler factual dispute devoured all the public oxygen that might have been more productively spent examining those officers’ rules of engagement.
Three years ago in North Carolina, the full potential toll of a collision between public misinformation and law enforcement intransigence became clear in Charlotte. Family members insisted that Keith Lamont Scott was sitting and reading a book when officers ambushed and killed him. The police department denied that claim but refused to release video footage for days, giving credence to the rumor and sparking civil unrest for days around the city.
After Scott’s widow released cell phone video showing that officers had escalated the encounter repeatedly and aggressively despite her distressed warnings that he had just taken heavy prescription medication for a traumatic brain injury and was likely having a hard time understanding their commands, the city did finally publish a report with video that proved Scott had had a gun in an ankle holster. Again, where scrutiny should have fallen quickly onto the tactics employed in officers’ initial approach to the dead man and their failure to communicate effectively with his wife on the scene, the information battle instead devolved into a no-he-didn’t yes-he-did argument over the gun.
Jean’s killing in Dallas does not match the national patterns of police violence against black men that Hall referenced in her Saturday remarks. But the public’s tendencies in response to the slow trickle of information produced and released by a criminal investigation is following some of those same markers — an understandable if lamentable consequence of decades where the “blue wall of silence” provided an impenetrable cover to any officer whose use of force alarmed witnesses.
“There is so much rhetoric surrounding this incident. We have a lot of questions that are unanswered. Allow us to get to the bottom of those answers that we can give to you, and then let’s have a discussion,” Hall said Saturday. “At that point you’ll be able to make a determination about us as a police department and me as a leader.”