A Dallas Police Officer Shot Her Neighbor, and a City Is Full of Questions

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DALLAS — Botham Shem Jean analyzed risk for a living at a global auditing firm. For someone in his line of work, the evening was shaping up to be as risk-free as it gets: Alone, in his one-bedroom apartment one block from the Dallas Police Department headquarters.

Fresh from work, he had texted his sister his evening plans: Watching a football game on TV, the Eagles versus the Falcons. He texted a friend, apologizing for not going out with her the weekend before. Mr. Jean, 26, was from the island-nation of St. Lucia. He had a big smile, and was a big eater, winning a meat-lovers’ contest at Big Chef Steak House back in the Caribbean. He still had his ticket for a free meal on his next visit, his prize after eating a two-pound steak in one sitting.

Unit 1478 on the fourth floor of the South Side Flats apartment complex was an 800-square-foot bachelor pad: dishes piled up in the sink, with pancake syrup, dish soap and other belongings adding to the clutter on the kitchen island. It was the evening of September 6. His 27th birthday was three weeks away.

In a matter of hours, Mr. Jean would be dead. A white off-duty police officer who lived in Unit 1378 — directly below Mr. Jean — claimed that she mistakenly entered the wrong apartment after returning home from her 14-hour shift and believed Mr. Jean, who is black, was an intruder. Officer Amber R. Guyger, 30, fired her service weapon twice, striking him once in the torso.

He was later pronounced dead at a hospital, his death now the center of a mystery that has angered and puzzled Dallas and beyond.

The racial profiling of black men and women by white police officers put new phrases into the American vocabulary — driving while black, walking while black, shopping while black. The shooting of Mr. Jean seemed to demand its own, even more, disturbing version: being at home while black.

The fatal shooting has become the latest, and most bizarre, the confrontation between an unarmed black man and a white officer, angering many who say they simply do not believe the officer’s account. In a city with a decades-old history of racial divisions, the case has again heightened tensions. Protesters chanted and disrupted a City Council meeting on Wednesday, and threats against the police have poured in. Officers have said they believe Officer Guyger’s version of events, while many in the black community — and many white residents as well — do not. City officials and other leaders have been caught in the middle.

“This is the worst sort of situation because we all expect to be safe in our own homes,” Michael S. Rawlings, the mayor of Dallas, said in an interview. “Everybody is heartbroken. Everybody wants the same thing — let’s get the answers. This is what the mother said to me. I was sitting there talking to her Saturday morning. And she said, ‘I’m not angry, but I just want to know why this lady shot my son.’”

Officer Guyger has been charged with manslaughter and released on a $300,000 bond, and numerous questions remain unanswered as the investigation continues. Mr. Jean’s relatives and his lawyers said Mr. Jean and the officer did not know each other. It’s not known whether there might have been a dispute between them as neighbors. Indeed much about what happened that night at the door of Mr. Jean’s apartment remains either unclear or in dispute.

The officer told investigators the door was slightly ajar and then fully opened when she inserted her computerized chip key; lawyers for Mr. Jean’s family said the door was closed. Officer Guyger said in court documents that when she opened the door, the apartment was dark and she saw a silhouette of someone she thought was a burglar. She said she shouted commands that were ignored. Neighbors, however, have told lawyers for Mr. Jean’s relatives that they heard someone banging on the door and shouting, “Let me in!” and “Open up!” before gunshots rang out. They said they then heard a man, presumably, Mr. Jean, say, “Oh my God, why did you do that?”

Accounts of banging and shouting are puzzling, because Officer Guyger is single and lived alone, and it was unknown why she would have banged on the door if she believed she was at her own apartment.

In some ways, the drama unfolding in Dallas looks and feels similar to other high-profile police shootings of unarmed black men that have gripped the country in succession in recent years. Mr. Jean’s family is represented by Benjamin Crump, the lawyer who represented the relatives of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, as well as S. Lee Merritt, a lawyer for the family of Jordan Edwards, the 15-year-old freshman shot and killed by a white officer last year in a Dallas suburb. In an echo of past police killings, there has been anger over what seems to attempt to incriminate the victim: Police released a search warrant that revealed that 10.4 grams of marijuana in multiple baggies had been found in Mr. Jean’s apartment.

“First they assassinate his person, then they assassinate his character,” Mr. Crump said.

Hours earlier that evening, managers at the apartment complex had received complaints from residents that there was a strong smell of marijuana in the fourth-floor hallways. Managers knocked on Mr. Jean’s door and at least five other doors inquiring about the smell, the Jean family lawyers said. It was unclear who on the floor was responsible for the odor.

It was not known whether Officer Guyger’s apartment was searched.

Mr. Jean’s relatives, lawyers, and supporters all say it would have been difficult for the officer to have mistaken Mr. Jean’s door: It had a large, bright-red, semicircular doormat, lying on a bare concrete floor. Officer Guyger had none. Would she not have noticed?

“My main concern is that she is lying,” said Mr. Merritt, one of the Jean family lawyers.

But Officer Guyger’s supporters say she had her hands full at the time she arrived at Mr. Jean’s door: Officials said she had with her a police vest, duty bag, and lunchbox — items she might be expected to carry to her own front door, not someone else’s.

Her mistake appeared to begin when she parked on the fourth floor, not the third floor where she lived, for reasons that remain unclear. She had lived in the complex for a short time, fewer than 60 days, officials said.

On Thursday, minutes after Mr. Jean’s funeral at Greenville Avenue Church of Christ in nearby Richardson, his father, Bertrum Jean, 54, stood in an upstairs dining hall and gym, leaning against a set of retractable bleachers.

He hugged those who approached him and laughed at times. “He just wanted to be with me everywhere I go,” the elder Mr. Jean said, recalling when his son was 5. “I think I spoiled him.”

The elder Mr. Jean, who preaches at a Church of Christ congregation and works as a water and sewage inventory supervisor on St. Lucia, said he understands racial tensions exist in Dallas and in the United States, but what role that played in his son’s death, he said he was not certain.

“I believe it may have been an isolated incident,” he said. “I don’t know what to make of it, but I’m still not fearful. If my other son has to come up here to school, I will send him.”

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