AUSTIN, Texas — Now, that the Botham Jean Act has passed in the Senate, it’s headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk to get signed into law. It’s a moment Allison Jean and her family weren’t sure would happen, but they are grateful that it did.
“It is indeed an honor to have my son’s name associated with a law, because of the unjust way in which he was taken from us,” Allison Jean said. “I supported the bill through all of its stages, because I believe that the bill is going to assist other people by trying to correct some of the wrong that took place during the investigation into Botham’s death. So, it is indeed an honor and it is one befitting the person in who it is named because Botham was one for social justice. He was one who fought for equal rights of individuals and other things.”
Botham Jean was killed on Sept. 6, 2018 by then Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger. After working a nearly 14-hour shift, Guyger told authorities she mistook Jean’s apartment for her own. She lived a floor below his in the South Side Flats. Guyger said she believed Jean was an intruder, leading her to shoot the 26-year-old who was unarmed and eating ice cream while watching television at the time of the deadly encounter. Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison for murder.
“The act does not help Botham Jean, but it helps other people who may be impacted in a similar way to Botham,” said Jean.
After 10 p.m. Monday night, the Senate unanimously voted to pass HB 929. It came after Sen. Royce West stood alongside Rep. Carl Sherman, the bill’s author, to present the bill to the Senate. West sponsored the companion bill in the Senate — SB 380. The intent of Bo’s Law is to strengthen policies and procedures related to body-worn cameras by members of law enforcement.
“I’m really elated,” said Sherman. “My staff, the pastors and fellow legislators here and all of the other organizations. We worked hard to get to this point, so it’s a feeling of somewhat exuberance. But, also there’s some bit of finale to all of the emotional rollercoaster — the uncertainty sometimes in trying to persuade those who were against it to be for it.”
In its first reading before the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee back in April, Sherman received pushback from organizations like the National Rifle Association, the Sheriff’s Association of Texas, the Houston Police Department and the Texas Municipal Police Association.
“When I think about when the bill was first assigned a hearing before Homeland Security and Public Safety — a committee that is 6-3 — six Republicans and three Democrats, the odds were not in our favor,” said Sherman. “But, working across the aisle and working with the various groups we were able to get to this point.”
Since then, the bill has undergone multiple revisions. In its original form, Bo’s Law aimed to clarify the Castle Doctrine. Attorneys on behalf of Guyger tried to use it and the mistake-of-fact defense during her trial. The Castle Doctrine states that a person has the right to use lethal force to protect themselves against another person if they have illegally entered their home, car or business. Dallas Police Department Sgt. Mike Mata instructed another officer to turn off the dash cam to the patrol car Guyger was sitting in the night of the incident. In a later interview with media outlets, Mata alleged he made the request since she was receiving a call from her attorney, which he deemed attorney-client privilege. Another provision that was stripped--- an offense for those who intentionally deactivated body-worn, vehicle, in-car or security cameras knowingly being used for an investigation. For Jean, both were important pieces of the legislation taken away in the House.
“The Castle Doctrine being removed is a significant issue, because that’s what the defense used to try to get away from conviction for Amber Guyger,” she said. “The other main piece that I thought ought to have remained was in reference to the recording devices. It should not only be body cams, but it also should’ve related to dash cams. But, I understand the legislative process and I believe that having the bill passed is significant and there will always be opportunities for future amendments.”
Sherman recently told Spectrum News 1 that the changes to the original bill were “painful” as he worked diligently to craft legislation that substantively addressed “systemic problems” in law enforcement in order to have systemic accountability within agencies.
“There’s so many competing interests and you have bi-partisan interests that are often hard to penetrate, so you’ve got to pare away at what the issues really are and stay focused,” Sherman said. “Throughout this process, we’ve had a single focus on establishing systemic accountability in policing and, at the end of the day, that means you can’t be married to your ideas, your thoughts. You’ve got to be open to compromise.”
As it reads today, Bo’s Law requires that peace officers keep their body cameras on during the entirety of an investigation involving them:
(c-1) A policy described by Subsection (a) must require a peace officer who is equipped with a body worn camera and actively participating in an investigation to keep the camera activated for the entirety of the officer's active participation in the investigation unless the camera has been deactivated in compliance with that policy.
Twenty-six legislators sponsored the bill, including four Republicans.
“Not only did the House vote overwhelmingly in favor of the bill, we increased from the second reading to the third reading from 98 in favor to 108 in favor,” said Sherman. “And then, to go over into the Senate late last night and for it to be voted unanimously by the Senate, that sends a strong message that this bill is supported by both parties and, I think, that’s extremely important for our government.”
The “929” in the bill represents Botham Jean’s birthday and was requested by his mother. It’s just another piece of her son’s legacy that she says will now live on. And although she hoped for more language protecting citizens, she’s optimistic that those changes will come in the not too distant future.
“I think the most significant is the fact that it is passed and it will be law,” she said. “There will be a law called the Botham Jean Act and as time goes by, amendments can be made to that act to produce some of the things we would’ve liked to.”