I could easily put this story in the Ethics Alarms Zugzwang file, because I see no analysis or result that won’t make the situation worse.
A white off-duty police officer named Amber R. Guyger entered the apartment of Botham Shem Jean, a 26 year old accountant, and fired her service weapon twice at him, killing the St. Lucia immigrant. She claims that she mistakenly entered the wrong apartment after returning home from her 14-hour shift and believed Jean, who is black, was an intruder.
Indeed, her apartment was directly below his. She had inexplicably parked her car on the 4th floor, where Jean’s residence was, rather than the 3rd floor, where hers was. So far, there is no indication that the shooter and the victim knew each other. Guyger had a clean record. Other facts are in dispute. The officer told investigators the apartment door was ajar and then fully opened when she inserted her computerized chip key. That seems possible but unlikely. Lawyers for Jean’s family say the door was closed. How could they possibly know that? Guyger said in court documents that when she opened the door, she saw shadows of someone she thought was a burglar, and shouted commands before shooting. Lawyers for Jean’s family have elicited testimony from neighbors that they heard someone banging on the door and shouting, “Let me in!” and “Open up!” before the gunshots. Why would the officer do that if she didn’t know Jean, or if she thought it was her own apartment? They also said they then heard Jean, say, “Oh my God, why did you do that?”
Boy, that sounds like an awfully convenient exclamation to be remembering now, don’t you think? But who knows? Maybe it proves the two knew each other. (Why didn’t Jean say, “Who are you?”) Maybe it is another “Hands Up! Don’t shoot!” lie for cop-haters and race-baiters to adopt as a rallying cry.
Surprise! Jean’s family is being represented by Benjamin Crump, the same lawyer who represented the relatives of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and managed to manipulate media accounts and public opinion into the narrative that those shootings were motivated by racial hate. If nothing else, Crump is diligent and zealous in creating an atmosphere that maximizes the opportunity for civil damages whether they are warranted or not.
Crump is referring to Jean’s death as an assassination. Of course it is! After all, Guyger’s a white cop, and they live to oppress, brutalize and kill unarmed black men for no reason whatsoever, except to protect white power in a racist nation. Dallas’s black citizens and white activists do not believe the officer’s story, because they presume racism. (Similar impulse: progressives and feminist believe Brett Kavanugh’s accuser, because they want to,) Protesters chanted and disrupted a City Council meeting last week. There have been escalating threats against the police. Officers say they believe Officer Guyger’s version of events, as weird and inexplicable as they are. The same bias is at work: they want to believe her.
Things don’t work when they are hemmed in by biases and agendas like this. Let’s say that an investigation yields no clarification. An innocent man was shot in his own home by a police officer who lived beneath him for no discernible reason, and the cop’s only explanation is that she was tired, confused, and made a mistake. What is the ethical course at that point?
There are a few easy calls. The police department has civil liability, and it is high time to put the same kind of limitations on police shifts that airline pilots must abide by. The accident, if it was an accident, may have been caused by unethical working conditions. It would also be sensible for apartment and condo complexes to be required to make all floors recognizably distinct. I have tried to enter the wrong hotel room, apartment, condo unit and dorm room at various times, in addition to walking into ladies rooms and the occasional closet. Luckily, I don’t carry a gun. However, my own experiences make me at least willing to consider that this might have been nothing but a terrible, tragic accident.
Obviously, Officer Guyger’s career is over no matter what the truth is, and should be. Thus I agree with the argument that she should be suspended without pay or simply fired. Off-duty cops are required to carry guns, and once a cop makes this kind of “mistake,” she can’t be trusted. I wouldn’t want her wandering around my neighborhood.
Beyond that, however, what is Dallas supposed to do? The race hucksters want to protest and exacerbate racial divisions. Guyger will be painted as a cold-blooded racist killer, and typical of all police. Any result that doesn’t have her sentenced to prison for a long time will be condemned as proof that the white fix is in. The city has a duty to prevent riots and deaths, but not to squelch protests, no matter how cynical and unfair. Should it indict and try Guyger for murder rather than manslaughter, knowing that over-charging could result in an acquittal? This was Baltimore’s approach in the Freddie Gray case, and now police passivity has made the city a runner-up to Chicago as U.S. Murder Central. What if the investigation suggests that this was indeed an accident, and no more? Is it fair to try Guyger at all, then? Will jury members concede that she has lost her occupation and her reputation, and that imprisoning her is cruel—that she has suffered enough? Or will Guyger really stand trial not as an individual, but as a symbol of all cops who shot unarmed black men and escaped accountability?
Not only do I see no satisfacory ethical outcome, I can’t even decide what an ethical outcome would be.
I do know this, however. Bias not only makes us stupid, it makes fairness, justice and law enforcement impossible.
53 thoughts on “From The Ethics Alarms “Now What?” Files: The Hopeless Dallas “Cop Shoots Black Neighbor” Tragedy”
This killing reminds me of a plane crash investigation which usually finds the crash resulted from the accumulation and compounding of a series of small mistakes. The magnitude of the tragedy doesn’t make the mistakes any larger, or criminal.
“What if the investigation suggests that this was indeed an accident, and no more? Is it fair to try Guyger at all, then?”
Is negligence a thing?
Criminally negligent homicide.
She should be tried and she should be convicted.
She was off-duty. I would bet that the immunity attaching to police activity would not be applicable here.
I don’t like the use of the word “accident” here. This was no accident. We have an intentional use of deadly force that killed someone. I would likely agree that this is a “mistake,” a horrible one. But, not an accident.
She could likely be charged with MANY different crimes. Murder, manslaughter, trespass, burglary, assault.
I think she should be. The fact that she is a police officer should not factor into this one bit, as the actions occurred while she was off-duty. She entered another person’s residence and killed him. She should be treated just as any other conceal-carry permit holder would be treated.
(I realize the on-duty/off-duty distinction is a little blurry, because officers are often called upon to act in cases of emergency or when they witness crimes. But, this entire situation got out of hand because of her actions. She was not a witness to a crime; she thought she was, but she wasn’t.)
Jut, this is way over the top. It’s manslaughter for sure: negligent, reckless, someone died. It’s not burglary if she thought it was her apartment. This is settled law. It’s not trespass either, except perhaps civil trespass. Mistake of fact is always a defense, if not always successful. If I take a hat in a restaurant thinking it is mine, you apparently think I’m guilty of theft. Wrong. This is closer to Tamir Rice’s case, where a trigger-happy cop shot him thinking a) he was an adult and b) had a real gun. He wasn’t charged, and probably shouldn’t have been. If he went to the wrong park and thought another kid had the gun and shot him, THEN it would be just like the Dallas case.
From what I can tell this comes down to tragic accident. Short of some sort of revelations about a prior relationship or dispute between these two, I don’t think you are going to find intent here. It does seem reasonable that she accidentally parked on the wrong floor after a long shift and went to the wrong apartment. If there is a crime like involuntary manslaughter that does not have an intent requirement. that might be appropriate, at the least it was negligence on her part.
I think this sort of thing could be voided with better policies. For example, if she had used her cell phone to call for backup, that could have diffused the situation, instead of her deciding to clear the apartment on her own. She would not do such a thing while on duty. Another thing is that if she had just worked a long shift (I do not know if this was an 8 hour shift, or a 12 or whatever) but it does seem that exhaustion could be a contributing factor.
I think you are using the word “intent” incorrectly. She pulled the trigger. That is an intentional act. The gun did not just “go off.” That would be an accident.
Criminal laws vary from state to state, but here is what mine says:
“Intentionally” means that the actor either has a purpose to do the thing or cause the result specified or believes that the act performed by the actor, if successful, will cause that result.
“With intent to” or “with intent that” means that the actor either has a purpose to do the thing or cause the result specified or believes that the act, if successful, will cause that result.
She fired her weapon at a person. That use of deadly force was with the intent to kill him. It is not as if she fired her weapon believing no one was there. You can have a hunting accident where a weapon is intentionally fired and hits someone when you are not intending to shoot them. (I am going up to the woods this weekend and we often shoot at targets. No one intends to shoot anyone else and such an occurrence would also be an accident.
The fact that she was mistaken about the fact that this guy was a burglar does not make this unintentional. She acted with the intent to kill someone (I am told that you never shoot unless you shoot to kill; I would bet that, as an officer, she knew that.)
Legally, this was intentional homicide.
I should amend some of my thoughts. My analysis does not take into account any possible defenses that might make this justifiable homicide. I still think it legally qualifies as intentional homicide, but there may be a self-defense argument, or defense of others that might be raised. And, without getting too far into the weeds, possible defenses may take into account her mistake about the surrounding facts.
Still no mens rea, though. If anyone shoots someone under the mistaken belief that the shooting is legal, it’s not murder. Mistake is a defense. If an officer reasonably shoots at a suspect who shot at her, and kills a bystander, that’s not going to be prosecuted as intentional homicide. In felony murder states, the perp can be prosecuted for causing the bystander’s death.
I think your scenario is not quite right. If an officer is shot at, shooting back is self-defense, and it would likely be an authorized use of force. It would not be prosecuted because the use of force is permitted. (I am presuming your scenario involves an officer carrying out his duties; in that case, the officer has immunity.)
All of the officers charged for killing unarmed people have been engaged in their duties. A cop isn’t immune from charges that he killed somebody. What immunity are you talking about?
If an individual legitimately believes they are on their own property, and Texas law protects property owners using deadly force in protection of their own property and protection themselves on their own property.
So still no mens rea if Guyger reasonably believed she was on her own property.
Texas, also, I think, and rightly so, considers a homeowner to have no reason whatsoever to NOT assume a trespasser has the worst intentions in mind when found on the property owner’s property.
I don’t see how negligence isn’t the best argument here barring evidence showing that Guyger was given some indication she was making a gross mistake and STILL continued her action.
She may have sincerely believed it was her apartment, but there’s no way such a belief was reasonable. The apartment numbers are shown on illuminated signs by each door. His door had a red doormat that hers lacked. This is not a situation of mistaking an airsoft gun for a real one. We ought to be able to reasonably expect adults to know where they live.
And isn’t that what makes this a negligence issue?
You are probably right. I was not distinguishing between specific intent crimes and general intent crimes.
Her actions were intentional. Whether she had specific intent, or general intent is the next layer. It would make the difference between an intentional murder and some other form of homicide (reckless or negligent homicide or manslaughter). Both are intentional, but special intent and general intent are different. She likely did not have the special intent to commit murder, but probably still had the general intent necessary for some criminal charge.
Did Guyger shoot Jean while still standing in the doorway or still standing outside the apartment…?
I mean, even with heightened anxiety and adrenaline, I find it hard to believe Guyger didn’t notice that the couch and desk and wall hangings and TV and arrangement of everything were completely out of whack from what she usually came home too…
Good questions all. How dark was it? Jean was still awake. I find her account unlikely in the extreme, but not more unlikely that an off duty cop would just shoot a neighbor she didn’t know for the hell of it.
Apparently she had made a noise complaint against him earlier that day. So apparently they weren’t completely unacquainted with each other.
There’s a mid-ground sequence of events that involves Guyger lacking judgment, situational awareness, and mindfulness. Just the kind of deficiencies her side of the story covers up. Just the kind of sequence of events the extreme elements of the “other side” of the story won’t except because they want something sensational.
I would make the point, here, that what is legal and what is ethical are, in this case, two very different things. Dallas has a number of options open to it under Texas law. None of are the point, here. What is the point? There are several, I think. Was the shooting, itself, ethical. Probably not. If you’re that tired and confused, you’ve got no business being strapped to begin with. Nor does Dallas have any ethical choices. Just about anything they do is going to be of questionable ethics. BLM and the family lawyer have one ethical path open to them…sit down and shut up. Decisions have to be made in this case, but YOU don’t get to make them.
The involvement of BLM and the Michael Brown Lawyer in this are just cognitive dissonance static here that I have to wade through. At the end of the day, race is irrelevant…and the shooter being an police officer is only a little bit relevant…but at the end of the day, a man was shot in his own home by someone who came in uninvited.
The question after that, the answer with which we have to brace ourselves to be content, is “was this an tragic mistake or was there mens rea”?
And Jack, I think, is on the bubble with the follow on question, if this was merely a mistake, what is the just response?
I wish someone with greater legal knowledge than me would answer my negligence questions.
You are right that race and the occupation of the shooter are factually. ethically and legally irrelevant.
Why is occupation irrelevant here? As a police office she is trained in the use of deadly force and the rules and protocols that surrond its use. So, why shouldn’t occupation factor into any ethical and factual analysis.
For the purpose of the accident, she was just a legal carrier of a firearm. It would make no difference if she were a lawyer or a cook. She shot someone that she shouldn’t have.
If we want to change the scenario, I can posit any number of slightly different scenarios that would have made this incident only locally newsworthy, if that:
1. The shooter is a white police officer and the occupant of the apartment is white.
2. Same scenario as in 1. above and the shooter is not a police officer.
3. The shooter is a black police officer and the occupant of the apartment is black.
4. Same scenario and the shooter is not a police officer.
I think in all the above scenarios, particularly two and four, it would be viewed as nothing more than a tragic mistake. (Although a big deal might be made of 3. because, you know, Cops!) Negligent homicide? Self defense? Stand your ground? Maybe. Just a matter for the local DA to sort through. I’d say it is only because of the colors involved and the shooter being a police officer that this is even on anyone’s radar. I think that’s significant. And edifying.
Race has nothing to do with this at all.
The only people making this about race are the usual suspects of Race Grievance Industrialists.
I think this was a trending topic before the ethnicities were revealed.
At a minimum I can vouch that Libertarian Twitter was all over this story before the relative melanin levels were known.
Often times, media play hide the ball when it comes to identifying the races. I’d never heard about this incident without the fact the poor damned owner of the apartment was black and the shooter was an off duty white police officer.
At this point I would say the ethical course is to let the system sort it out based on the current rules, not making special exceptions because it is a hard case.
Does this mean that the victim’s family and advocates will be noisier, further damage race relations and increase distrust in the police? Yes, but this is only avoidable if both the officer and the police department take full responsibility beyond what can be reasonably determined, and we all know this is not going to happen. Problem is that the family cannot pull back without opposing advocates taking advantage of every inch of ground given back.
The shooting officer and her employer are on the same boat. If they don’t defend zealously she ends up in prison, or at least taken to the cleaners. Even if she deserves it, it would be a travesty if she ends up there for a more severe crime than what she committed. Again, if they pull back on their defense, the victims will take advantage of it. Downside of this is that the police appear callous and uncaring about the situation.
It’s a prisoners dilemma, and both sides based on previous occurrences know their opponent is going to defect. Unless a “benevolent” dictator steps up and puts everyone in their place to force cooperation. And then we have damaged the institutions we’ve built to deal with these types of situations.
So in summary, I’ll take the ugly object-level hits to protect the meta-level rules and institutions we’ve set up and are already damaged enough as it is.
At least we don’t have Trump saying that “if I had a daughter…”
Of course, give him a minute to figure out how much of a troll he can be, here.
Anyone think the reaction would have been…um…different had Guyger been a male?
“Guyger’s a white cop, and they live to oppress, brutalize and kill unarmed black men for no reason whatsoever, except to protect white power in a racist nation.”
This sounds eerily familiar to the argument that a Madison, WI activist group has been making.
Freedom Inc, in an ”effort” to end the much ballyhooed High School To Prison pipeline, has been horrendously disruptive (swarming) of public meetings by preventing recordings of the proceedings, verbally and physically assaulting attendees, and even stalking them once they’ve left.
And the F-bombs? Oy!
One member went so far as to claim, without a shred of proof whatsoever, that, and I quote:
”“No matter how or whatever stipulations you put on a police officer going into a school they are going to do what they want to do, what they are trained to do, WHICH IS KILL BLACK KIDS.” (bolds/caps mine)
Worthy of mention; if that’s the case MPD was/is doing a very poor job training their officers; they haven’t killed any Black kids.
It should be noted they haven’t killed any White, Native American, Pacific Islander, Latino, or Asian kids, either.
Jack, it was Freddie Gray in Baltimore, not Sonny. Baseball on the mind?
As usual. Then there was Jeff Gray, a great Red Sox reliever who had a career ending stroke…
“The police department has civil liability, and it is high time to put the same kind of limitations on police shifts that airline pilots must abide by. The accident, if it was an accident, may have been caused by unethical working conditions.”
This sort of practice is generally a joint production with public employees’ unions, letting people run up astronomical overtime.
This stuff is hard, because it happens in an instant, but it seems the right analysis should have been, “It’s my apartment. I’m not in it. No one’s at risk. Call for assistance.”
“It’s my apartment. I’m not in it. No one’s at risk. Call for assistance.”
This was the right steps, for a citizen. Guard the door and call for help. There is only one way in or out, after all.
And if there were not, let the perp escape rather than shoot: shooting someone, even in Texas, is an expensive and time consuming act. What can they steal that is not cheaper than what defending yourself costs? Gotta save that for a true life threatening situation. (Although, you can legally shoot someone to protect property in Texas, even someone else’s)
For a police officer in a major urban area, this might not be the first thought process. They are used to, trained to, confront a perp in the exact fashion the officer did in this case. Many police departments have video trainers, where shoot/no shoot scenarios are used to condition reflexes and scenario recognition. I have been in one: they are realistic, and designed to tell you where you shot (laser pistol simulator onto big screen), who you shot, and if you should have shot. ‘Muscle memory’ takes over once you know the scenario and are confronted with a threat.
Fatigue combined with reflex level training may have caused this tragedy.
“What can they steal that is not cheaper than what defending yourself costs? Gotta save that for a true life threatening situation. (Although, you can legally shoot someone to protect property in Texas, even someone else’s)”
After the passing young punk said “What’s to stop me from just walking into your house and taking your stuff?” to my wheel-chair bound great uncle as he sat on his front porch, his reply simply was to pull the 1911 .45 he had gotten during the war up from his lap and state gently, “You can try, but I’ll set your body up just right BEFORE I call the police who will believe every word I say”.
Ole Unc never was bothered by young punk again.
Ethically she is at least guiltly of reckless disregard for human life. I think it’s probably worse. She has lied, repeatedly. First her key didn’t work. Then the door was unlocked. Then the door was open and she walked in WITHOUT TURNING ON THE LIGHTS?
The doors are made to close automatic ally so it’s unlikely it was ajar.
Multiple witnesses heard on the door and a woman’s voice shouting.
I’ll be interested to hear the results of the toxicology report.
All valid points—so what’s your theory? If she got mixed up because she was drunk, that’s still manslaughter, not murder.
When all other explanations for Officer Guyger’s presence in the apartment and the reasons for shooting the victim are eliminated as being reasonable or logical the simplest explanation is the best; she made a terrible, terrible mistake that took the life of an innocent person and in-turn she destroyed her life. Of course anti-white racists and social justice warriors don;t use logic or reason, they are 100% emotionally driven. This police officer should be put in protective custody to keep her safe from herself and others.
As for the illogical and totally predictable victim/racism hyperbole coming from the black community; I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, black communities across the USA are a powder-keg of racism just waiting to explode into violence. The growth of anti-white racism in black communities is one of Obama’s “greatest” legacies. There are also loads of ignorant non-blacks that are willingly supporting and parroting the unethical rationalizations of the anti-white black racists in the black communities.
Paul has shared information and a link above talking about meetings and I’ve personally been to one of these meetings where the racists and social justice warriors spew their anti-white hate speech and I do mean hate speech. You can see the deep cavernous lines of hate on their faces, you can hear the deeply ingrained hate in their voices, there is a strange odor of utter stupidity emitting from them, and you can see the illegal and dangerous actions they are willing to partake in because “the ends justifies the means”. The quote Paul provided about the police “are going to do what they want to do, what they are trained to do, which is to kill black kids” is a 100% accurate quote – I’ve been there when they’ve said it. It’s their opinion that the police are pawns of racist white people trying to kill all the black people. There’s is a reality that doesn’t exist in the real world but yet they believe it absolutely; that folks is what propaganda brainwashing does.
By the new speech standard set forth by our modern day social justice warriors is…
…however hate speech from social justice warriors appears to be approved by social justice warriors because it hates those they oppose and they are always correct about everything there is no one more correct than them. It’s like the brains of social justice warriors never grew beyond the non-logic associated with ignorant pubescent thinking.
Social justice warriors are irretrievably separated from reality, logic, common sense, and reason; you can’t fix their kind of stupid.
Jack wrote, “Bias not only makes us stupid, it makes fairness, justice and law enforcement impossible.”
It’s been my observation that what social justice warriors are doing shows us that they what to make law enforcement impossible. They’re striving towards chaos and they will continue down that path as long as they are ones delivering the chaos; when the table turns and the chaos directly impacts them, they are the victim. They are like an invincible teenager just before reality beats them down.
Something that bothers me about this particular shooting is that I don’t think she has stated anything to the effect that she thought he had a gun, or knife, or that he was an eminent threat to her in any way, he just didn’t follow the orders from someone that illegally entered his apartment.
I noticed that too. Contrary to comments upstream, police are not “exempt”, whatever you think that means. They are bound by their state’s laws regarding justifiable homicide. This is generally to defend themselves or someone else from attack that may cause great bodily injury or death. it is based on their interpretation of the events known to them at the time. These same rules apply to non-police persons. The police do have authority to shoot a fleeing person, but only when they can reasonably show that allowing that fleeing person to escape would create a danger to others; its a tough standard to meet.
I have seen nothing about what behavior the deceased exhibited to make the officer believe she was in danger. There must be something besides simply not responding to commands before the shooting is proper.
Also, and I know this is getting long, we do not know why she worked a 14 hour shift. Are shifts of that length assigned, or was it OT due to specific activity she was engaged in? What was her assignment? Patrol, traffic, investigations, hospital guard? Police work takes many different forms, some more strenuous and tiring than others.
A note to Jack: not all departments *require* their officers to be armed when off duty. Most all allow it if authorized by their state’s laws, but make it optional.
Thanks for the clarification. That makes sense.
Regardless of the actual sentence served, anything short of a felony conviction that takes away her right to ever lawfully possess a firearm again is flat out unjust.
I do think a manslaughter conviction is just. Nothing indicates it is more than that. She was stupidly careless and a death happened. Isn’t that the law? Treat her just like anyone else who is lawfully armed, as she was not on duty at the time.
I also thank you for including officer conduct as unethical. Most of the cases BLM cites are bunk, and most of the public sees through it. Not do for unethical conduct by most police officers. If this woman wasn’t a cop, would she have gone home while waiting for the indictment? I refuse to believe that’s the case. When wieghing the risks of the innocent being killed vs a cop, it always sides with be trigger happy and we’ve got your back.
We’ve got disparte factions fighting for the heart and soul of the black community. Keeping on this course makes the job easier BLM. You can cite the statistics all you want about Baltimore, but cops still strike more fear in a black man there than the criminals do. Which is a horrible injustice, but cops are doing themselves no favors.
Accident or not, it is involuntary manslaughter at minimum. The error was hers. She went into the wrong apartment, and did not exercise normal care to ensure she was in the right place. Her decision to open fire, based on the reporting makes no sense unless he threatened her.
It was her error that directly resulted in an innocent man being killed. That cannot be characterized as an “accident,” since the weapon didn’t discharge involuntarily. She fired it before identifying her target, and violated one of the most fundamental rules of firearms safety – be sure of your target, including the fact you are shooting it for the right reason.
It is not only fair, but necessary to try Guyger. In my view, she broke the law. Her negligent actions resulted in the death of an innocent. If I were her, I would resign from the force and throw myself on the mercy of the court. A 14-hour shift, in my view, is no excuse. Working conditions may need to be reevaluated, but if we let “I was tired” be an excuse for manslaughter, we are headed further into the pit of lawlessness.
How does one live with this? I have no idea.
Nice work, Glenn. As usual.
Thanks for the kind words, OB.
Police and teachers are but two professional groups for which we can see the negative consequences of stretching the norms of a functional work week. Air traffic control, anyone?
I’m not familiar with the intricacies of how Texas delineates between murder, homicide, intent, negligience, etc, but on first blush, this would appear to me to be over charging. Make no mistake, she did something very wrong, at a minimum, what I would assume would be negligent homicide.
If it’s over charging, she’s going to walk. If it isn’t over charging, then the prosecution must have some evidence we haven’t been aware of in the leaky faucet that has been this case.
If she walks…
Well… we’ll either see another complete melt down like we’ve seen countless times the past decade or we’ll see citizens behave in moderation. North Central Texas is hard to predict on these types of issues that have caused such consternation in other regions.
Jury can use castle doctrine in their deliberations. While on first pass this seems egregious because it was not her home, it would, on further consideration, at least permit the defense to claim there was no mens rea and that the homicide should be considered as one of the “less bad” homicides (I know).
If she’s completely off the hook that would egregious, but if it leads to a lesser conviction then that may be ok.
But again, if the prosecution overcharged, castle doctrine may be sufficient to get her off the hook.