In the last two entries in this blog, we discussed the controversial case of a female cop off-duty who believed she had come home, found an intruder inside her apartment, and wound up fatally shooting the legitimate resident because she was in the wrong apartment. Next, I wanted to examine it from the perspective of the people on each side of the gun. The last entry looked at it from the perspective of Botha Jean, the man who was tragically killed in this mistaken identity incident. Let’s look at it now from the standpoint of Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, the person who pulled the trigger and is at this writing facing charges of Manslaughter.
As noted in the earlier entries, I have spent a good part of my life in hotel rooms, a situation directly analogous to the “little houses apartments made of ticky-tacky, and they all look just the same” situation that occurred so recently and tragically in Dallas. In the last entry, I mentioned an incident where a couple was erroneously given a key to my motel room, and when they made what they reasonably believed was lawful entry to my hotel room and I believed was an unlawful entry, my gun came out. Had I acted unlawfully in taking them at gunpoint, I would have expected to be convicted of felony aggravated assault. Under the circumstances, my actions were justified; I was held harmless; and of course, no charges were filed.
But I can see it from the side of the person making entry. More than once in that long life away from home, I have opened the hotel door only to see someone else’s suitcases or other paraphernalia in the room, and quickly closed the door and returned to the desk to rectify the stupid mistake that had been made there.
One occasion that sticks in my mind occurred in the 1970s, in a capitol city in a Northeastern state. I inserted my key and opened the door, and simultaneously heard a woman cry out and a man blurt something inside, and then saw a large naked man running toward my position at the open door. I had apparently encountered a couple making love. The man’s fists were pumping as he ran toward me, and his facial expression was one of fear and anger combined.
I was a cop, but not a cop there, and was well distant from my own jurisdiction. I reflexively pulled the door back shut and stepped back and lateral as my hand went to the concealed Colt .38 Detective Special I was carrying. On the other side of the door, I heard the man lock the deadbolt and the chain lock. About that time I put things together. I seated the Colt securely in its holster, picked up my luggage, and went downstairs to the desk to have a stern discussion with the very apologetic desk clerk who had given me a key to the wrong room, which had not been double-locked or chained from inside.
No harm, no foul. But I think it’s likely that the man inside that motel room made a point forever after of double locking his doors. It’s a lesson I damn sure learned when I was on his side of such doors. It’s not that you should get shot for failing to double lock, obviously: it’s that you can get hurt or killed as a result of that failure.
In the Dallas case currently under discussion, we who are not yet privy to the fine point details of the situation do not know if the woman who fired was outside the door, inside the apartment, or within the frame of the doorway when she fired that irretrievably fatal shot. The exact distance between the two parties at the instant of the shooting has not yet been revealed to us. If Mr. Jean reflexively, defensively moved toward her, remember that he was a big strong man and she is a petite female, who a couple of years before had been disarmed of her TASER when it failed to stop her male assailant in another incident, and had to shoot that opponent, a shooting that was (correctly, in my opinion) ruled justifiable. If she had reflexively drawn her gun and perceived a similar disarming attempt underway in the case now under discussion, I think any reasonable and prudent person would agree that should be taken into consideration.
Let me make my own bottom line clear here. Yes, I carried a badge for 43 years. But I was an armed citizen before my first chief pinned the shield on me, and I’ve been an armed citizen since I retired from law enforcement last year. Unlike so many who are commenting on this case, I’ve been in Botha Jean’s position, and I’ve been in Amber Guyger’s.
What happened here strikes me as the rare confluence of circumstances which creates the “perfect storm” for a shooting that should not have happened. But the bottom line is, We do not yet know all the critical, subtle details that combined to create this tragedy, and none of us therefore have the tools to properly judge the ultimate issue of guilt or innocence.
Let us not forget that any of us could have been on either side of this double-edged tragedy.