Judge Dismisses Dallas from Lawsuit in Amber Guyger/Botham Jean Murder Case
A federal judge has dismissed the civil lawsuit against the city of Dallas, Texas in the matter of the 2018 murder of Botham Jean, a twenty-six-year old black man, an accountant for Price Waterhouse Coopers, a Gospel singer, a brother, an uncle, a son, and an emigre from the pristine Caribbean island of Saint Lucia. Botham Jean was, in short, an all-round “Good Guy.”
Jean was shot and killed in his own apartment while watching football and eating ice cream by a thirty-year-old white female Dallas police officer, who claimed that she mistakenly believed that she was in her own apartment and that Jean was an intruder.
Amber Guyger was found guilty of the murder of Botham Jean, but sentenced to only ten years imprisonment. She will likely be released in less than half of that time.
The civil suit charged the Dallas Police Department with, among other things,
….a pattern, practice, history, and custom of using excessive force against minorities, including approaching them with guns drawn, when there is no imminent threat of bodily harm.
The dismissal order was handed down two days before Christmas by US District Judge Barbara Lynn. Crucially, the case against Dallas was dismissed “with prejudice,” which is legalese meaning that the suit may not be reinstated before Judge Lynn because it failed “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted,” wrote the judge.
However, the Jean family filed an almost immediate appeal of the dismissal to the US District Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
We feel that the city of Dallas should be in this lawsuit. Should be held responsible for the acts of Amber Guyger, family attorney Daryl Washington told local TV station NBC DFW. To get this news the day after Christmas was very difficult for the family, said Washington. They know we have a fight ahead of us. And they’re just prepared to do whatever it takes to get some type of justice for Botham and their family.
Reactions to this disheartening news have been mixed on social media.
A sampling of Twitter yielded these: :
This is what publicly hugging and declaring forgiveness for murders gets you.
Wrong, wrong, wrong!!
Corruption, corruption, corruption
Others sided with the cops and the city:
Dallas didn’t kill him. A female cop did..
How is the city liable for the actions of an employee that is not on duty?
That last query — “How is the city liable for actions of an employee that is not on duty?” — is the key question here. Surprisingly, though, it has a very simple answer:
Police officers are not ordinary city “employees.” For better or for worse, and whether we like it or not, police officers are licensed, certified and entrusted by the state with virtually limitless power, including the ultimate powers of bestowing personal freedom or even exposing one to a lifetime of imprisonment; and, yes, life and death. They may “legally” kill you. These are powers and authority that no other city “employees” have.
Max Weber is the putative “father of sociology.” He (along with W.E.B. Dubois) is one of my favorite political and social science thinkers and philosophers.
Weber’s theories of state power, state authority and political legitimacy are mainstays and required reading for anyone interested in understanding the nature of power. He defines the “state,” as that entity (group, organization, or even individuals) who have an exclusive right or authority to use physical force to bend another’s will to one’s own, and to do so within a specified, recognized tract of land or territory. That sheer physical power confers a cloak of “authority” and thus “legitimacy” on the possessors of “power” over and above individuals and groups subject to their “will.”
As such, as any police officer will tell you, they are never really “off duty.” For instance, suppose that a technically “off duty” cop witnesses a crime, or learns of a potential crime? Is that officer not duty-bound to intervene to arrest the actual criminal, or to deter the potential criminal?
Or, on the other hand, if a police officer, him- or herself, commits a crime while technically “off duty,” does the city have no responsibility or “agency” for the acts of this very special “employee”? Indeed, the city must be held to account just as if that officer had been in uniform and on the clock precisely because of his or her “special” training, knowledge and, yes, “authority.” His or her “license” to police does not turn off and on at the end or beginning of a “shift.” Police are, in effect, always “on duty.”
As for this judge’s decision to sever the City of Dallas from this matter, a very bad and unsettling precedent has now been set. You see, it is hard enough — indeed damn near impossible — to hold killer cops to account even when they are “on duty.”
This ruling…this federal dismissal of an off-duty cop’s “employer” — government itself — means that Amber Guyger is now the lone defendant in this case.
The decision also means that cities, states, and the federal government itself may not necessarily be held responsible for their “special” employees — that is, provided they can find the right lawyers and judges who will agree with them.