Reports of pepper-spray use concern Dallas chief

Wednesday, September 12, 2018
Protesters in the shooting death of Botham Jean gather Monday at Jack Evans Police Headquarters in Dallas. Jean was shot Thursday by off-duty Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who said she mistook his apartment for hers.
Shaban Athuman ~ Associated Press

DALLAS -- The Dallas police chief said Tuesday she has called for a full review and plans to meet with protest leaders after learning about reports police used pepper-spray projectiles at a demonstration over a black man's death.

Chief U. Renee Hall said in a statement the projectiles, which are called pepper balls and usually contain the chemical in pepper spray, should only be used if there is an immediate threat to the public or if an on-scene commander calls for them to be used. The projectiles irritate the nose and eyes.

Hall said she wants to meet with protest leaders to "address their concerns."

Monday's demonstration came a day after a white Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger, was arrested for manslaughter in the off-duty shooting death of her neighbor, 26-year-old Botham Jean. Authorities have said Guyger said she mistook Jean's apartment for her own when she fatally shot him last week. She was released on bond.

Demonstrators gathered outside Dallas police headquarters, and several dozen blocked traffic as they marched about half a mile. At one point, police used the pepper-spray projectiles to help control the crowd, according to news reports.

Jean grew up in the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia before attending college in Arkansas. He graduated from Harding University in 2016 and had been working for accounting firm PwC.

Attorneys for Jean's family have criticized the officer's account of the shooting, saying it contradicted statements from neighbors.

The officer's description of what happened was included in an arrest affidavit prepared by a Texas Ranger and released Monday, shortly after the district attorney announced the case would be presented to a grand jury, which could decide on more serious charges than manslaughter.

Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Jean's family, said Monday the affidavit is "very self-serving." Lee Merritt, who also represents the family, called it an attempt to "condone what happened, give her a break."

Guyger, a four-year veteran of the police force, told investigators she had just ended a 15-hour shift Thursday when she returned in uniform to the South Side Flats apartment complex. She parked on the fourth floor, instead of the third, where she lived, according to the affidavit, possibly suggesting she was confused or disoriented.

When she put her key in the apartment door, which was unlocked and slightly ajar, it opened, the affidavit said. Inside, the lights were off, and she saw a figure in the darkness casting a large silhouette across the room, according to the officer's account.

The officer told police she concluded her apartment was being burglarized and gave verbal commands to the figure, who ignored them. She then drew her weapon and fired twice, the affidavit said.

She called 911 and, when asked where she was, returned to the front door to see she was in the wrong unit, according to the affidavit. Authorities have not released the 911 tapes.

The Dallas County medical examiner's office said Jean died of a gunshot wound to the chest. His death was ruled a homicide.

Merritt said Monday two independent witnesses have told him they heard knocking on the door in the hallway before the shooting. He said one witness reported hearing a woman's voice saying, "Let me in! Let me in!" Then they heard gunshots, after which one witness said she heard a man's voice say, "Oh my God! Why did you do that?"

Merritt said he believes those were Jean's last words.

Dallas County District Attorney Faith Johnson emphasized her office was conducting its own probe, in addition to the investigation by the Texas Rangers. She will have the option of presenting more serious charges to the grand jury.

It's not clear if Guyger has an attorney.

Guyger's blood was drawn at the scene to be tested for alcohol and drugs, according to Hall, but authorities have not released results.

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