The attorney of the family of Botham Jean, the young man shot and killed by an off-duty Dallas cop in his own apartment last week, said Thursday that authorities are trying to smear the victim by searching his home for drugs.
“It’s clear to me and the family that investigators are not interested in doing an objective job,” Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney and the family’s lawyer, told NBC News.
Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger fatally shot 26-year-old Jean when she walked into his apartment last Thursday night, claiming she thought it was her own. She was arrested, charged with manslaughter, and released on $300,000 bond last weekend.
Since then, according to a warrant, investigators have been searching Jean’s apartment for “any contraband, such as narcotics, and other items that may have been used in criminal offenses.” They later claimed to have found marijuana during their search. According to Merritt, Guyger’s home was not searched.
Not only is the allegation that Jean had pot in his home irrelevant, it also fits neatly into a predictable and disturbing pattern seen in other cases of black men and women killed by cops. Investigators did the same thing in the cases of Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, and Freddie Gray, to name a few. As ThinkProgress’ Ian Millhiser previously argued, “Generally, the alleged marijuana use is raised to discredit someone who is no longer able to speak for themselves, and to imply that the marijuana use somehow contributed to their death.”
It’s also used to deflect blame and suggest the killer’s actions are justifiable. For instance, lawyers of George Zimmerman, who was on trial for killing Trayvon Martin, argued that there were traces of marijuana in Martin’s blood. The same claim was made after Michael Brown’s death.
Drug use isn’t the only way cops attempt to discredit victims and deflect blame. As former ThinkProgress reporter Carimah Townes pointed out, defense attorneys in the case of Officer Johannes Mehserle, who shot Oscar Grant in the back, brought up Grant’s criminal background and history of resisting arrest. In some cases, Townes added, many of the police claims turn out to be false.
The media often runs with these allegations, publishing stories about victims’ past drug and alcohol use, abusive upbringings, or missed child support payments. In Jean’s case, FOX 4 News tweeted Thursday evening about the “developing” news that marijuana was found in Jean’s apartment:
— FOX 4 NEWS (@FOX4) September 13, 2018