Ex­perts dis­agree on whether of­fi­cer could be cred­i­ble

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - NATION - BY NOMAAN MER­CHANT

HOUS­TON — A Dal­las po­lice of­fi­cer’s ex­pla­na­tion that she killed a black neigh­bor who lived above her be­cause she mis­took his apart­ment for her own has been dis­missed as im­plau­si­ble and self-serv­ing by his fam­ily and their lawyers.

Ex­perts on po­lice train­ing and psy­chol­o­gists, how­ever, are split as to the cred­i­bil­ity of Of­fi­cer Am­ber Guyger’s story about how she came to kill 26-year-old Botham Jean, and that cred­i­bil­ity will be key to whether a grand jury will in­dict Guyger and whether she could per­suade a trial jury the killing was tragic, but jus­ti­fi­able.

Guyger, 30, has been booked on an ini­tial charge of man­slaugh­ter in last week’s killing of Jean, whose fu­neral was Thurs­day, ex­actly a week af­ter the deadly en­counter. Guyger told in­ves­ti­ga­tors she parked on the wrong floor of her build­ing af­ter re­turn­ing home from work late that night and she mis­tak­enly en­tered Jean’s apart­ment, which was right above her third­floor unit.

She said it was dark in­side and she thought Jean was a bur­glar, and that she shot him af­ter he didn’t obey her “ver­bal com­mands.” She said she only re­al­ized she wasn’t in her own home af­ter she had shot him and turned on the lights.

Lawyers for the Jean fam­ily have crit­i­cized the han­dling of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, al­leg­ing that Guyger has been given pref­er­en­tial treat­ment. They have also crit­i­cized Guyger’s ver­sion of events, say­ing it is meant to por­tray her ac­tions in the best light.

“Botham Jean is not here to give his ver­sion of what hap­pened be­cause he’s dead,” said one fam­ily lawyer, Ben­jamin Crump.

Some ex­perts who aren’t con­nected to the case say Guyger should have rec­og­nized what was re­ally go­ing on and stopped short of us­ing deadly force.

“Law en­force­ment has no place for fear­ful of­fi­cers,” said Jameca Woody Fal­coner, a po­lice psy­chol­o­gist based in St. Louis. “Fear­ful of­fi­cers make hasty de­ci­sions and bad de­ci­sions. In this situation, the of­fi­cer al­lowed her fear to in­flu­ence her de­ci­sion­mak­ing and it cost an in­no­cent man his life.”

Fal­coner said Guyger should have been bet­ter trained to de-es­ca­late any con­flict with Jean once the two saw each other, and to de­ter­mine quickly that she was in the wrong apart­ment.

Oth­ers say even though Guyger was in the wrong apart­ment, she could have had a rea­son­able be­lief that she was de­fend­ing her life and her prop­erty.

“This is a ques­tion about her us­ing deadly force and whether you could say, be­yond a shadow of a doubt, that there is no rea­son­able view of what she did,” said Eu­gene O’Don­nell, a former po­lice of­fi­cer and pros­e­cu­tor who is now a pro­fes­sor at the John Jay Col­lege of Crim­i­nal Jus­tice.

O’Don­nell said it would re­quire a full in­ves­ti­ga­tion to de­ter­mine all the fac­tors that went into her shoot­ing Jean, and that one or two de­tails could make a dif­fer­ence.

“It’s a mis­take to dis­miss some­thing out of hand sim­ply be­cause … it ap­pears to be im­plau­si­ble or in­ex­pli­ca­ble,” he said.

Laurence Miller, a po­lice psy­chol­o­gist in Boca Ra­ton, Florida, said that based on the cur­rent in­for­ma­tion avail­able, Guyger ap­pears to have “ba­si­cally fol­lowed the pro­ce­dure for han­dling a po­ten­tial deadly force en­counter.”

“The main prob­lem is: What was Of­fi­cer Guyger do­ing in Jean’s apart­ment in the first place?” Miller said.

G.A. Rad­van­sky, a Univer­sity of Notre Dame pro­fes­sor who has stud­ied cog­ni­tion and hu­man mem­ory, said that it was “plau­si­ble” that some­one could falsely misiden­tify some­thing fa­mil­iar.


This photo from video re­leased Thurs­day by the Kaufman County Sher­iff’s Of­fice in Kaufman, Texas, shows Dal­las po­lice Of­fi­cer Am­ber Guyger get­ting booked af­ter turn­ing her­self in Sept. 9 fol­low­ing the fa­tal shoot­ing of Botham Jean in his own apart­ment. Guyger was booked on a man­slaugh­ter charge and has since been re­leased on bond.

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