Pubdate: Fri, 14 Sep 2018
Source: Baltimore Sun (MD)
Copyright: 2018 The Baltimore Sun Company
Author: Meagan Flynn



The family of Botham Jean, the unarmed black man who authorities say
was fatally shot by a Dallas police officer inside his own apartment,
spent Thursday celebrating his life. Hundreds of people filed into the
Greenville Avenue Church of Christ in Richardson, Texas, to pay their
respects at Jean's funeral service, remembering the 26-year-old
businessman as, what his friend Pastor Michael Griffin described him,
"the light in a dark room."

But then around 5 p.m., the family's lawyers were alerted to some
apparent breaking news in the investigation into Jean's death.

The news and the tweet, which received criticism online, had nothing
to do with why Jean was killed the night of Sept. 6. But the situation
was also familiar, another example of how unarmed black men who are
victims in police shootings are defamed and made to look like
criminals even in death as police investigations unfold, said attorney
Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney who represents Jean's family.

"[Jean] was not only never convicted of a crime, he was never even
accused of a crime, never arrested," Merritt told The Washington Post.
"It took a white Dallas police officer to break into his home and
shoot him to death for him to become painted as a criminal."

Dallas police officer Amber Guyger has been charged with manslaughter
in Jean's death after authorities say she entered Jean's apartment -
allegedly mistakenly believing it was her own - and fired on him.
Guyger was in uniform and had just returned from a shift about 10 p.m.

Jean's apartment was dark, she claimed, according to an arrest
affidavit. She claimed she saw a "large silhouette" from across the
room, believed it was a burglar and fired her gun twice, striking him
in the torso and killing him, the arrest affidavit states.

On Thursday, multiple news outlets reported the results of a search
warrant executed on Jean's apartment. A judge authorized police to
search for guns, fired cartridge casings, trace evidence such as
blood, video surveillance and also "any contraband, such as
narcotics," according to the affidavit for a search warrant, which the
Fort Worth Star-Telegram posted online.

The case against a white Dallas police officer who shot and killed a
black neighbor in the neighbor's home will be presented to a grand
jury, which could decide on more serious charges than manslaughter,
the district attorney overseeing the case said Monday.

Merritt said the fact that police went looking for drugs appeared to
indicate that they were bent on diminishing Jean's credibility, which,
he said, is "a familiar pattern" in police shootings. Police found two
shell casings and less than one ounce of marijuana in Jean's
apartment, the Dallas Morning News reported. The warrant does not say
who it belongs to, but Merritt said "it has so little relevance" that
it doesn't matter.

"It's not surprising but it's telling. It's telling that in a homicide
investigation they went looking for drug paraphernalia," Merritt said.
"There could only be one purpose for that. The only purpose is to look
for information to smear the dead. That is exactly their specific intent."

It is not clear what, if any, search warrants have been executed on
Guyger's property. The Dallas Police Department could not be
immediately reached for comment regarding the search warrants. The
Texas Department of Public Safety, which is also involved in the
investigation, took questions from The Washington Post late Thursday
night but public information officers were unavailable to immediately
provide responses.

The history of what Merritt described as "character assassinations" in
the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police has been long

In an article published in the January 2016 edition of "Journal of
Human Behavior in the Social Environment," researchers Calvin John
Smiley, a sociology professor at Hunter College-City University, and
David Fakunle, now at the Baltimore City Health Department, described
several high-profile cases in which information such as a victim's
criminal history, neighborhood or even physique was used to
"posthumously criminalize" him.

In the case of Eric Garner, who was fatally strangled by police in New
York City in 2014, police and subsequently the news media frequently
emphasized that Garner was accused of illegally selling individual
cigarettes prior to the fatal encounter and that he had a history of
arrests, the researchers noted.

In the case of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, shot to death by Cleveland
police while holding a toy gun in 2014, the backgrounds of his parents
became part of the story of Rice's death, as though parenting skills
could be to blame for the shooting, the researchers wrote. In one
report on, the media outlet dug up Rice's father's past
convictions for abusing women and his mother's two arrests dating back
to 2001.

And in the case of 18-year-old Michael Brown, shot to death by police
officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014, police zeroed in
on Brown's alleged attempt to steal cigars from a convenience store
prior to the shooting, while critics fired back that it had nothing to
do with it. The researchers called the convenience store focus a
"micro-invalidation" in Brown's death, arguing "this report of him
robbing a convenience store took precedent to the overall narrative of
an unarmed young Black male being shot several times by a police officer."

"It's a systemic issue," Merritt said The Post. "We've been
conditioned to associate black people with crime," even when they are
victims, he said.