Amber Guyger trial prompts probe into Dallas PD, ethics complaint against judge

Testimony in the Amber Guyger murder trial, along with the trial judge’s actions after sentencing, have prompted two investigations: one into the actions of two Dallas police officers following the 2018 shooting death of Botham Jean and a probe into District Judge Tammy Kemp gifting Guyger a Bible to take with her to prison.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed a complaint with the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct, accusing Kemp of "inappropriately proselytizing to the defendant," the group said Thursday.

The organization contends that Kemp’s actions were unconstitutional.

Credit: Botham Jean Foundation

Credit: Botham Jean Foundation

>> Related story: Dallas County judge sparks anger by hugging killer ex-cop Amber Guyger

The New York Times reported that Kemp did not respond Thursday to a request for an interview, and se has not spoken publicly since the end of the trial. Jacqueline Habersham, interim executive director of the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct, told the newspaper confidentiality rules bar her from commenting on the complaint.

Dallas police Chief U. Renee Hall also announced Wednesday that she's initiated internal investigations into incidents immediately following Jean's Sept. 6, 2018, killing that were brought to light by testimony at Guyger's trial.

"There was sworn testimony that revealed things during this trial that gave me concern," Hall said during a news conference, where she vowed to make any necessary policy changes stemming from the incidents.

>> Related story: Relief prevalent as Dallas community reacts to Amber Guyger guilty verdict

Credit: Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP

Credit: Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP

She cited allegations of tampering with in-car video cameras, the failure to render aid as Jean lay dying on his living room floor and “multiple other things” that came out during the trial. Footage from responding officers' body cameras showed Guyger waiting for backup outside Jean's apartment, as well as images of her texting on her cellphone in the hallway while colleagues were in the apartment, performing CPR on the mortally wounded man.

Guyger admitted in her testimony that she did not try to perform proper CPR on Jean while waiting for help.

Watch body camera footage of the scene below. Jean's body is not shown in the Court TV footage.

“We are not backing away from those things, but we first must find out what, if any, of those (allegations) have merit, and then move forward,” Hall said.

She admitted that what the public saw and heard in court was “disheartening.”

"I can only imagine the community's perception of who we are as the Dallas Police Department, and if we are truly honest with one another, what law enforcement is, or who law enforcement is, across this country," Hall said.

Watch Dallas police Chief Renee Hall speak below. 

Guyger, 31, was convicted of murder Tuesday for gunning down Jean, 26, in his apartment at South Side Flats, an apartment complex near downtown Dallas where both he and Guyger lived. Guyger, who was an off-duty Dallas patrol officer coming home after her shift, testified she went to the wrong floor and apartment by mistake.

She shot Jean, a native of St. Lucia and avid church singer who worked as an accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers, because she believed he was an intruder in her apartment, which was directly below his, testimony showed. Jean, who was eating ice cream and watching TV, was killed after Guyger's bullet tore through his heart.

Credit: Harding University via AP

Credit: Harding University via AP

The jury that convicted Guyger on Wednesday recommended a sentence of 10 years behind bars. Kemp imposed the sentence during a highly emotional sentencing hearing, after which Jean’s 18-year-old brother, Brandt Jean, forgave his brother’s killer and begged Kemp to allow him to give Guyger a hug.

The pair embraced, weeping, in a moment that had most observers in the courtroom, including Kemp, sobbing or wiping away tears.

Watch the interaction between Brandt Jean and Amber Guyger below, courtesy of The Dallas Morning News.

"We were so moved today by Botham's brother and his asking of Amber Guyger a hug," Hall said Wednesday. "And we were equally moved when the judge, Judge Kemp, gifted her with a Bible."

It is Kemp's gift to Guyger that has landed her in the sights of the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. The foundation, which works to protect the constitutional principle of separation of church and state, cited courtroom video that shows Kemp giving Guyger her own personal Bible and counseling her on what passages to pay attention to.

“We understand that it was an emotional moment, particularly when the victim’s brother, Brandt Jean, publicly forgave and hugged Guyger. It is perfectly acceptable for private citizens to express their religious beliefs in court, but the rules are different for those acting in a governmental role,” the foundation’s letter to the judicial commission reads.

Credit: Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP

Credit: Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP

Annie Laurie Gaylor and Dan Barker, co-presidents of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, wrote that they, too, believe the criminal justice system needs more compassion from judges and prosecutors.

“But here, compassion crossed the line into coercion,” the letter reads. “And there can be few relationships more coercive than a sentencing judge in a criminal trial and a citizen accused and convicted of a crime.”

Read the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s letter below. 

Judge Kemp Letter by National Content Desk on Scribd

The letter, as well as a statement issued by the foundation Thursday, detailed the four-minute exchange between judge and defendant.

“You can have (my Bible). I have three or four more at home,” Kemp told Guyger, according to multiple videos of the encounter. “This is the one I use every day.

“This is your job for the next month. Right here. John: 3:16. And this is where you start.”

Kemp then read the cited passage to Guyger: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

She told Guyger God has a purpose for her.

>> Dallas jury rejects 'castle doctrine' defense, finds ex-cop Amber Guyger guilty of murder

“This will strengthen you. You just need a tiny mustard seed of faith. You start with this,” Kemp said.

The videos show Guyger hugging Kemp, a hug that the judge reciprocated. Guyger whispered into her ear, causing Kemp to pull away and look her in the eyes.

“It’s not because I’m good. It’s because I believe in Christ,” the judge said. “I’m not so good. “You haven’t done as much as you think you have, and you can be forgiven. You did something bad in one moment in time. What you do now matters.”

Watch Judge Kemp talk to and comfort Amber Guyger below, courtesy of the Law & Crime Network. 

Kemp’s words and actions sparked mixed reactions from the public, with some people praising the compassion and grace she showed Guyger and others condemning her kindness toward a white convicted murderer who killed an unarmed black man in his own home.

The racial undertones of the trial and Guyger's 10-year sentence, which some observers likened to a slap on the wrist for the murder of an innocent man, added to the outrage.

Gaylor and Barker noted in a news release that Kemp "generally handled a difficult and widely publicized trial with grace and aplomb."

Her actions after the trial ended were a serious First Amendment violation, the pair said.

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"It violates the constitutional separation between state and church for a sitting judge to promote personal religious beliefs while acting in her official capacity," the release said. "She was in a government courtroom, dressed in a judicial robe, with all of the imprimatur of the state, including armed law enforcement officers, preaching to someone who was quite literally a captive audience. Delivering Bibles, Bible studies and personal witness as a judge is an abuse of power."

The First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit legal organization dedicated to defending religious liberty, is countering the foundation's complaint.

Hiram Sasser, general counsel for the organization, said the Freedom from Religion Foundation is protesting Kemp’s actions “rather than joining the rest of the nation celebrating the compassion and mercy Judge Kemp demonstrated.”

"We should all be thankful the law allows Judge Kemp's actions," Sasser said in a statement. "We stand with her and will gladly lead the charge in defending her noble and legal actions."

Kemp’s behavior was not the only unsettling moment during Guyger’s trial. Testimony from multiple witnesses indicated officers may have acted outside departmental policy in the way they handled the shooting.

The Dallas Morning News reported the internal investigations Hall announced Wednesday involve the actions of both Sgt. Mike Mata, an officer and president of the Dallas Police Association, and of Guyger's partner -- and lover -- Senior Cpl. Martin Rivera.

Testimony during Guyger’s trial showed that Mata, who has been one of the former officer’s biggest supporters since the shooting, ordered a subordinate, Sgt. Breanna Valentine, to shut off the camera in her patrol car the night of Jean’s killing so he could talk to Guyger privately.

Mata told CBS Dallas-Fort Worth he was doing his job when he spoke to Guyger, who he said he asked, "Are you OK?" He told the news station he asked Valentine to shut off her dashboard camera while Guyger spoke on the phone to her attorney.

The News reported that officers involved in shootings are allowed to consult with a "companion" officer following the incident. Officers can stop a recording only when there is no chance of "anything else of evidentiary or law enforcement value" taking place during the consultation, the newspaper said.

The paper said it is unclear if Jean’s death has been classified by the department as an officer-involved shooting since Guyger was off duty when the gunfire took place.

"Let's be real clear," Mata told the CBS affiliate. "The DA (prosecutor Jason) Hermus had every opportunity to call me and put me on that stand if I did something unethical, if I did something illegal or if I did something immoral. Why didn't you put me on the stand? Why didn't you ask me those questions? "I'm going to tell you why. Because the DA knew good and well that was our process. We have been doing it that way for the seven years I've been investigating critical incidences."

Mata, who is facing public calls for his resignation, said he would not quit his post, according to the News. He said the internal probe would show he did nothing wrong.

"I welcome it and want a thorough investigation of all parties who were at the scene that night," Mata said. "And when this investigation is done, it will show that I violated no policy and I did the standard practice that has been in place for several years."

Credit: Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP

Credit: Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP

Rivera is being investigated for deleting text messages between himself and Guyger the night of Jean’s shooting. Testimony during the trial showed that the pair had been engaged in a sexual relationship, though Guyger testified that the romantic component of their partnership had ended months before Jean was killed.

Evidence showed, however, that Guyger and Rivera had been sexting throughout Guyger’s 14-hour shift the day of the shooting and that she was on the phone with Rivera when she parked -- on the wrong level -- in the garage attached to the building where she and Jean lived.

The mix-up, and Guyger’s failure to notice multiple visual clues that she was on the wrong floor of the apartment building, led her to Jean’s door that night.

Guyger texted Rivera twice in the minutes after she shot Jean and while she was on the phone with a 911 operator.

“I need you … hurry,” the first text read.

“I (expletive) up,” the second read.

Prosecutors argued that those messages, and the sexually explicit texts, were deleted in the days after Jean was killed. They were later recovered by investigators.

Credit: Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP

Credit: Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP

CBS Dallas-Fort Worth reported that local activist groups, including Mothers Against Police Brutality, have called for Rivera's firing.

Jean’s mother, Allison Jean, on Wednesday addressed the problems brought to light by Guyger’s trial, saying that “the corruption that we saw during this process must stop.”

Allison Jean, who lives in St. Lucia, told those gathered for her statement that the corruption must stop for them, because “after now, I leave Dallas. But you live in Dallas.”

“It must stop for everyone,” Jean said.

Jean cited alleged contamination of the crime scene where her son died. She also criticized training in which officers are taught to shoot to kill.

“If Amber Guyger was trained not to shoot in the heart, my son would be standing here today,” Jean said.

Credit: Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP

Credit: Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP

>> 'I was scared to death': Ex-cop Amber Guyer sobs on stand over Botham Jean's death

Guyger testified last week that after hearing “loud shuffling” in the apartment, she went inside with her service weapon drawn. She admitted that when she fired the gun, she intended to kill Botham Jean.

Allison Jean said either a lack of proper training or a failure to follow training led to her son’s murder.

“The poor training, or the poor use of what should have been training, is what we see coming out of this case,” she said. “If this was applied in the way that it ought to have been taught, my son would have been alive today.”

Watch Allison Jean’s impassioned statement on her son’s death below, courtesy of the News.

She said a death like her son’s can never be allowed to happen again.

“The Dallas Police Department has a lot of laundry to do,” Jean said. “The Texas Rangers need to know who’s on board, and every single one of you, citizens of Dallas and residents of Dallas, need to know what to do to get your city right.”

Hall said she wants to ensure that, if the alleged actions brought up during the trial are true, the department makes the necessary changes to ensure they do not happen again.

The chief said the testimony heard at trial is “not reflective of the men and women of the Dallas Police Department,” who she said show up each day with “integrity, professionalism and dedication” to protecting the Dallas community.

"And it doesn't reflect where I want to take this organization, along with my command staff," Hall said. "I stand before you today fully committed to making the changes that need to be made. I'm committed to leading a city that will have the trust of the community."

Hall said the year since Jean’s slaying has been a difficult one for everyone involved.

"In this tragic event, our city and two families' lives have been forever impacted," the police chief said. "What we can agree upon, as a whole, is that Dallas today is different than what it was yesterday, and definitely different that it was a year ago."

She said changing the public perception of police officers begin within the agency, but that the department cannot do it alone.

"We must come together, not only to heal but to work hand in hand so that Dallas becomes the model of a safe city that the rest of the world can follow," Hall said.

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