The former Dallas police officer came home from work, parked her vehicle in the parking garage and walked to her apartment. Or at least what she thought was her apartment. These are the parts of our day we do on autopilot. Like your morning routine, you don’t think about it, you just do it.
Tragically, this autopilot aspect of life, led Amber Guyger to the same apartment door as hers, but on the wrong floor. To keep the horrible sequence of events going, the apartment door she walked to was defective or installed improperly and didn’t always close on its own like it was designed to do.
She puts her electronic key to the door, but it doesn’t work. That’s when she notices the door isn’t completely shut. She pushes the door open and walks into the apartment. As she stands in the entry way, she sees a shadowy figure in the light of the television. She gives commands common for a police officer about showing their hands. As the figure moves some more, she fires twice, hitting the figure once in the upper left chest, what proved to be a fatal wound.
(This is a summary of the testimony heard during the trail, it is not intended to be all encompassing of every detail from the trail, that transcript alone would be countless pages long)
Unfortunately, the true nightmare had just begun. She wasn’t in her apartment, the person wasn’t an intruder intending to do harm. Instead, the apartment belonged to the person she just shot, Botham Jean. A guy sitting on his own couch doing nothing wrong, certainly not expecting someone to come through his door and start shouting commands at him. Guyger begins to do CPR and calls 911 on her phone.
Many people scrutinized this move as she was in full uniform and had her police radio with her. I for one, was not big on getting on my police radio when I was off duty. In a big city like Dallas, radio traffic is almost constant. When you get on the radio and begin telling the dispatcher who you are and what just happened, the dispatcher is generally confused because they aren’t expecting to hear from you. Generally, you spend about the same amount of time telling them who you are, what your badge number is so they can “log you onto the system” as it would to just tell 911 what just happened. Calling 911 can actually be just as quick or efficient in that case.
As the panic continues, she apparently runs out to meet the responding officers. Once they arrive, they continue to attempt life saving measures, but the wound is not in a good place and the innocent man dies.
As a former police officer, I imagine everyone reading thinks I believe she’s innocent. I’m too biased to say she deserves to go to prison for what she did. Well, you’re not entirely correct. What I understand, is how she got to that doorstep, perceived what she thought was an unknown person in her apartment, and made the decision to shoot to defend herself. I understand the mindset. Does that mean she’s innocent? No. That’s up to the jury.
As countless people that lived in that complex testified, getting lost or parking on the wrong floor of that apartment complex was an easy thing to do. Does that absolve her of all criminal culpability and responsibility? No, that’s not what I’m saying. I just realize we are human, and we are usually on auto pilot during some aspects of our life, walking from your car to your door is usually one of them.
Yes, she should be more observant. Yes, she was apparently talking, texting, or “sexting” with someone, which could have contributed to her being distracted. But absent her being on her phone, this could have still happened. If his door was working properly, this may have been prevented. If only she looked up and saw the door number and realized she was on the wrong floor, this could have been prevented.
If only… if only… so many things you wish happened to stop this horrible sequence of events from transpiring, but they didn’t. Making the tragedy even more difficult to stomach.
One thing I will point out is her reaction to what just took place, isn’t unusual for someone who has experienced firsthand fear and stress of a deadly force situation. Many officers I’ve known that were involved in a shooting or were shot at on duty (myself included), know what those incidents are like and your reaction afterwards can be odd. Everyone reacts differently. There’s no playbook. There’s no do-overs like in training. There’s no stopping your physiological responses that in some instances cause you to react oddly, or even wrongly.
Of course, as we sit here a year later, it’s easy to nitpick and say what looks right or wrong. What she should have done or not done. But as we sit her offering our criticism, we aren’t realizing we just shot someone thinking they were in your apartment. I don’t know many people that would be perfectly under control in that moment. Life as you know it is over. A million things run through your mind. You freeze, panic, experience a range of emotions in a matter of seconds. Anger, sadness, panic, grief, anger, regret, self-doubt.
Worst of all, Mr. Jean lost his life. That is the most tragic part of this entire situation. I can’t imagine what his family is going through. If that was my brother, I’d be beyond furious. If it was my brother, I too would want justice, but I also would walk in her shoes. She didn’t want this to happen. She didn’t seek this man out with a plan to kill him. This was the culmination of a million things going right, as a result, what happened was wrong in every possible way.
I am simply trying to look at this entire case from an objective point of view. Not an emotional point of view. It’s obviously tragic and emotional. However, if emotion or the amount of tragedy dictated how our criminal justice system worked, the system would operate much differently. People who kill others would never get probation or light sentences. People who commit aggravated assault, aggravated robbery, or aggravated sexual assault, would never get probation or light sentences, but it happens. More than people realize. The haters think only police get light sentences. Well that’s changing and rightfully so. Not long ago, an officer was sentenced to 15 years in prison for a bad shooting from this same county, the same courthouse, the same system.
Society today is so quick to judge situations they’ve never been in. People read headlines and hear tidbits of information and form an opinion. Many of us haven’t served on a jury and decided after hearing ALL the facts presented. Yet, we all have our two cents about what a verdict should be, without sitting in that jury box.
That brings me to my final point. Reading this you may still think I’m biased because I tried to explain a few things about how she reacted and how we all react differently under extreme stress. I don’t care how much you train, until things really hit the fan, you never really know how you will react.
Having said that, I will accept whatever verdict the jury renders. Why? Because I must believe in the system. If they find her guilty of murder, manslaughter, or find her innocent, I will accept it.
Rioting will change NOTHING. Yet, the threats of riots and retaliation on police officers are already abundant on social media. I know there is nothing I can type to prevent a possible violent reaction to the verdict. If I could, I would. Until my finger stopped working. Sadly, some of us feel violence is the answer to tragedy. It makes little sense. At least to me.
You may say, “Easy for you, your friend, brother, community member wasn’t killed in his own apartment doing nothing wrong.”
You’d be right in this case.
But I can say, having been to countless police funerals, I know what it is like to see someone die tragically and senselessly, at no fault of their own. I know how it feels to be angry about what happened and want vengeance. However, such an approach to life would lead to an even uglier society than we have today.
The criminal justice system isn’t perfect. Police officers aren’t perfect. Humans are not perfect. Every system, every person, has flaws. We must continually work to be better.
Whatever the jury decides, I will accept it.
I wish others did the same, but I fear that won’t be the case.
In tragedy, there are no winners.
The Officer Next Door