More than two months after an unarmed and innocent 26-year-old, Botham Shem Jean, was shot to death in his apartment by former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, newly elected Dallas District Attorney John Creuzot is ready to do the job his predecessor failed to—charge Guyger with murder.
Faith Johnson, a black Republican who was appointed to the role of Dallas DA by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in December 2016, lost to Creuzot by 20 points last Tuesday. She had been widely criticized for what many perceived as the preferential treatment of Guyger, who was only charged with manslaughter in Jean’s death.
As NBC News notes, Johnson had previously been praised for securing a conviction against former Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver in the murder of unarmed black teenager Jordan Edwards. In the case of 30-year-old Guyger—who claims she mistook Jean’s apartment for her own and shot him because she thought he was an intruder—the charge has been widely viewed as too lenient.
Creuzot, a former judge who retired from the bench in 2012, told NBC that anything less than a murder charge for Guyger deviates from Dallas County precedent.
“I don’t know any police reports. I don’t know any forensic reports, but based on what I have seen, manslaughter is an inappropriate charge, based on the circumstances as I understand them,” he said. “Once I get in there and I get everything in front of me and it appears the most appropriate charge is murder, then that’s the charge we will go forward with.
“I think I’m going to join everybody else in praying that we don’t have any more police shootings. That’s the first step. That’s not on us. That’s on the police,” he added.
Creuzot—who will take office in January 2019—told NBC that if the case has not gone through the system before he takes over as DA, he will take a closer look at it. He said his office will have the authority to upgrade the charge to murder.
Creuzot is a firm believer in criminal justice reform. During his time on the bench, he received national attention for his diversion drug court program that evaluated first-time offenders to determine their fitness for rehabilitation and whether or not they were a danger to their community before sentencing them. He told NBC he hopes to implement a similar program when he takes over as DA.
He also wants to evaluate the bail system in Dallas County. He told NBC that under the Texas Constitution, most people have the right to have a bond set. While he acknowledges that there will still be a bail system, he said his plan is to work to reduce the number of people being incarcerated while increasing fairness in the system.
“It means that the poor won’t sit in jail because they don’t have a few dollars. It also means that they won’t have pressure on them to plead guilty when they know they are not. It means a lower jail population ... and a more humane criminal justice system.” Creuzot said. “I really think that if we do this in a smart way that we can reduce crime. I think Dallas County alone can close two or three more prisons in the next four years ... that’s my goal. I want to get those numbers down, but I also want to address racial disparity and sentencing and mass incarceration.”
In the meantime, Johnson told Fox 4 that she is determined to take the Guyger case to the grand jury.
“We are still proceeding with that case. And by the way, that case is going to the grand jury very soon,” she said. “I want the opportunity to bring the indictment. It happened under my watch, and I think that’s very significant that I take this case to the grand jury.”
Johnson had the following to say in a statement released to NBC News Thursday night:
I am proud of the work that my team and I have done to prepare the Amber Guyger case for presentation to the grand jury. In vigorous pursuit of justice for Botham Shem Jean and his family, we have worked tirelessly gathering evidence, conducting forensic testing, and interviewing more than 200 witnesses for our own independent investigation. As I have stated from the beginning, my team will present to the grand jury all of the evidence gathered during both our independent investigation and the Texas Rangers’ investigation. Further, we will explain all of the applicable laws so that the grand jury will have all the evidence they need to make the right decision. It is my sincere hope that if the grand jury true bills the Amber Guyger case, Judge Cruezot will continue my work to vigorously seek justice for Botham Shem Jean, his family, and the residents of Dallas County.