Gathered at the Texas State Capitol on Monday, those in support of House Bill 929, also known as Bo’s Law Safe at Home, expressed the need for passing the legislation to protect citizens across the state during a news conference.
The bill’s namesake, Botham Jean, was killed in 2018 by then Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger.
“On that fateful September 6, when I learned the circumstances surrounding Botham’s death, I thought it was a very easy case, because he had every right to be in the sanctuary of his home watching football and eating ice cream,” said Allison Jean, Botham Jean’s mother. “However, when I sat at the trial in 2019, I realized it was not as easy as I thought. And so, my family stands in full support of a law that will change the lives of everyone in Texas and written in the name of my son.”
Ahead of Thursday’s hearing, Rep. Carl Sherman, who authored HB 929, discussed its components. According to Sherman, Bo’s Law will help to strengthen and clarify the Castle Doctrine regarding a person’s ability to “stand your ground.”
“If someone breaks into your home, explicitly if someone comes to your place of employment, if someone comes to your place of business, or if someone were to break into your vehicle, you have a right to use force,” Sherman said. “Secondly, the bill addresses mistake of fact and eliminates this as a legal defense.”
Guyger, who was convicted of murder in 2019 and sentenced to 10 years in prison, alleged that she believed she was entering her apartment after a nearly 14-hour work shift and mistook Jean as an intruder, causing the deadly encounter. She lived one floor below Jean at the South Side Flats, less than 10 miles from Dallas Police Department headquarters. During the trial, both the Castle Doctrine and the mistake-of-fact defense were introduced. In April, Guyger is set to go before a judge for her appeal.
“Bo’s law is about establishing systemic accountability,” Sherman said. “Bo’s Law is about making sure that Texans are safe at home.”
Sen. Royce West filed a companion bill in the Senate to House Bill 929.
“We need to bring transparency,” West said. “We need to make sure that the Castle Doctrine is clarified. We need to make certain that the tragedy that happened to Botham Jean, Atatiana Jefferson, [and] Breonna Taylor doesn’t happen again.”
In acknowledging that having discussions with law enforcement plays a critical role, West said there shouldn’t be any issue regarding whether deaths like Botham should ever happen again in Texas.
“When is it acceptable that a person be in their own home and end up dead?” he asked. “It’s not acceptable. No Texan, regardless of the color of their skin, regardless of their religion, should find that acceptable. What we should find acceptable is coming to a resolution to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Bo’s Law is exactly that.”
Passed in 2007, Senate Bill 378 says that deadly force can be used only in certain circumstances. Dallas District Attorney John Creuzot noted that Jean’s death brought attention to an “unexpected gap” in the Castle Doctrine, which Bo’s Law aim’s to fill.
“This law clarifies what everyone assumed already existed — you should be in your own house when you claim this defense,” said Creuzot. “The change allows people to protect themselves in their own home, cars, and businesses, while rightfully excluding people who invade another’s home and kills the homeowner and claims this protection regardless of the circumstances of them being an intruder.”
A mistake-of-fact defense will no longer be permissible if HB 929 passes. The law also expands body camera requirements in an effort to provide transparency in law enforcement investigations, eliminating any doubt as to what occurs during cases. At the time of the shooting, Guyger was off-duty and her body-camera was off. However, it was uncovered during the trial that her superior told her to turn off the dash-cam video to talk about the incident.
“Most police departments already have policies as has been referred to requiring cameras to remain on while their interacting with the public,” said Creuzot. “This act puts that policy into law and clarifies that it shall remain on during an investigation from beginning to end.”
Rep. Nicole Collier urged residents to participate in the public hearing before the state’s Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee at 10:30 a.m.
“This is a race for justice that was started by Botham Jean whether he knew it or not,” she said. “He has made a change in Texas. This is a race that has been picked up – the baton has been picked up by Rep. Carl Sherman and Sen. Royce West, and we at the Texas legislature are ready to stand to help them. But, we need you to take up the baton. We need you to continue this race for justice – justice for the Jean family, justice for Botham Jean.”
The 929 in Bo’s Law has significance as it represents Botham’s birthday. The St. Lucian was 26-years-old when he died. Over the weekend, the City of Dallas renamed a portion of Lamar Street to Botham Jean Boulevard, a change that the family described as bittersweet in the past.
“It transcends race, it transcends political affiliations, it transcends class or religion allegiance and therefore I see no reason why there should be opposition to a law that allows you to sit in the comfort of your home,” said Allison Jean.
In her final words, Jean encouraged everyone who protested for change to continue to make the lives of those around them better, as that is what Botham would’ve wanted.
“Anyone who stands in solidarity with this law is contributing to that end,” she said. “Let’s save America. Let us save this world. Let us make this world a better place.”