CHICAGO: A Texas prosecutor said Monday a white cop could face murder charges for apparently mistaking a black man’s apartment for her own, and shooting him dead before realising her mistake.
The revelation came as criticism swirled over the police handling of the incident. The victim’s family accused investigators of dragging their feet in arresting the officer and of not providing them with enough information.
Amber Guyger, of the Dallas Police Department, was arrested Sunday and charged with manslaughter. She was later released on US$300,000 (1.2 million) bail.
Guyger is accused of entering the apartment of her 26-year-old neighbour Botham Shem Jean on Thursday night, after she returned home at the end of her shift.
She allegedly mistook Jean’s apartment for her own home, which was one floor below in the Dallas complex. Guyger fatally shot Jean thinking he was an intruder, police said.
The manslaughter charge came under scrutiny Monday, as Dallas’s chief prosecutor hinted at potentially higher charges to come.
District Attorney Faith Johnson said a grand jury would be impaneled after the state-wide agency conducting the investigation, the Texas Rangers, hands the case over to prosecutors.
“The Texas Rangers made the decision to issue an arrest warrant for manslaughter,” Johnson told a news conference, adding that there was a “spirited debate” Sunday between prosecutors and the Rangers over what charges to bring.
“The grand jury will be able to take a look at all aspects of this case, which will include anything from murder, manslaughter or what have you,” she said.
Jean was a black immigrant from the Caribbean island nation of Saint Lucia.
He had graduated from a private Christian college in the state of Arkansas in 2016 and had been working at the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dallas.
A number of his family members assembled in Dallas in the wake of the tragedy. A memorial service was planned for Thursday.
The family has been critical of the way the case has been handled so far.
“I have asked too many questions and I’ve been told that there are no answers yet,” Jean’s mother Allison Jean said at a news conference.
Jean family attorney Lee Merritt accused investigators of giving the officer “special treatment,” because she was not arrested for days after the incident.
“She shouldn’t have left that scene without being in handcuffs that day,” Merritt said.
While there have been limited details made public about the case, it has quickly become embroiled in the politics of police brutality controversies in the US and taken on international relevance.
Protesters on Friday demanded Guyger’s arrest.
Saint Lucia’s prime minister Allen Chastanet arrived in Dallas on Monday to confer with authorities and family members, but said little publicly.
According to the Dallas Morning News, Guyger got off on the wrong floor of the building complex and approached an apartment exactly one floor above her own.
The door reportedly was unlocked and the lights were off inside the apartment. When Guyger saw a figure moving in the dark, she pulled out her pistol and opened fire thinking it was an intruder, the newspaper reported.
Video posted online showed Guyger still in uniform, pacing outside the apartment and crying, and paramedics conducting chest compressions as a patient was wheeled away on a gurney.
Dallas police said the 30-year-old officer has been with the department for four years. Local reports said she was involved in an earlier shooting in May 2017.
No date has yet been set for her to appear in court, as the grand jury will first have to issue an indictment.
The city’s police previously have found themselves at the center of the nationwide debate over deadly interactions between officers and black civilians.
Five of the city’s officers were shot and killed by a sniper at the end of a 2016 protest over police shootings.
The gunman Micah Johnson, who was African American and died in an ensuing standoff, told police he had targeted white officers.