Police in Dallas are seeking manslaughter charges against an unnamed colleague who walked into a neighbor’s apartment and killed him Thursday night.
After initially treating the killing as an officer-involved shooting, investigators determined the woman was off duty when she walked into an apartment she thought was her own and shot 26-year-old accountant Botham Jean dead in his home. Police then abandoned the slower, more elaborate processes governing an on-duty fatal incident investigation and sought the manslaughter warrant, Police Chief Renee Hall told reporters Friday afternoon.
“Last night a Dallas police officer returned to what she believed to be her apartment after her shift had ended. She was still in uniform when she encountered Mr. Jean in the apartment. It’s not clear what interaction was between them, her and the victim, but at some point she fired her weapon striking the victim,” Hall said. She added that the Texas Rangers have begun an independent investigation, but said the department abandoned standard “OIS” protocol after determining Jean was killed in an off-the-clock civilian encounter.
The officer’s name and any public portions of her personnel record will not be released until she has been formally charged, the chief said.
The killing will add to Hall’s challenges as she seeks to build on departmental reforms initiated under her predecessor, David Brown. Hall took over the Dallas force one year ago this week, after Brown decided to retire following a gunman’s murderous rampage against officers who were escorting a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest through the city’s downtown in the summer of 2016.
Brown had made Dallas a watchword for what policing reform can achieve, with critics of haphazardly deployed lethal and physical force by police praising his 2013 move to require officers to revisit their training six times a year instead of once every two.
Police killings dropped each year from 2013 to 2016, Radley Balko noted in a piece praising Brown after his retirement announcement. Hall has continued her predecessor’s policies, including his commitment to speedy and transparent personnel decisions when officers betray the public’s trust. She fired two officers on Thursday for off-duty crimes, including domestic abuse and drunk driving, announcing the decisions publicly in the same style Brown had adopted in firing 70 different officers in his six-year run atop the department.
The culture change Brown stewarded and Hall hopes to continue followed decades of notoriety for the Dallas force. An officer shot and killed a black child in the 1970s while trying to extract a confession from him by playing Russian roulette with his service revolver. More than a decade later, police killed an elderly woman on her front porch as she waited with her revolver for officers to respond to her 911 call about a burglar. Then in the 1990s, the city’s first black mayor began hiring police executives from outside the department with an eye toward change.
“We focused on community policing,a nd now we’re focusing on data-related policing,” former judge John Creuzot told the Washington Post in 2016. “Over time, the tension went down, and the trust went up.”
Creuzot now hopes to become the chief prosecutor for Dallas County, after narrowly winning the Democratic primary for the district attorney’s race in March. He faces off against current DA Faith Johnson in November. Johnson has been in office for about 18 months after being appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott (R) at the end of 2016.
Once Hall’s officers file the appropriate paperwork, it will be Johnson’s decision whether or not to seek criminal charges against the officer who killed Jean on Thursday in his own apartment.
Should she proceed as Hall wishes, the case would likely be simpler than the couple dozen recent examples of a police officer facing trial for lethal conduct on duty. The officer would not enjoy the legal protections afforded to on-duty cops, based on Hall’s still-vague depiction of events at Friday’s press conference. Those standards make it all but impossible for jurors to convict officers in on-duty shootings where they profess to have feared for the safety of fellow officers or civilians, even where video evidence calls the legitimacy of that testimony into question.
At press time, department public information officers did not know when more details of the officer’s identity or track record with the department might be released.