Complaint Filed Over Judge’s Talk of Religion in Guyger Case

State District Judge Tammy Kemp, right, gives Botham Jean’s mother, Allison Jean, a hug while Botham’s father, Bertrum Jean, stands at left, following the 10-year sentence given Wednesday to former Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger for murder in Dallas. Guyger, who said she mistook neighbor Botham Jean’s apartment for her own and fatally shot him in his living room, was sentenced to a decade in prison. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News via AP, Pool)

DALLAS (CN) – A secular nonprofit filed a judicial ethics complaint Thursday against the judge who handed fired Dallas cop Amber Guyger a Bible before hugging her for several minutes after she was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the murder of unarmed neighbor Botham Jean.

The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation told the State Commission on Judicial Conduct in Austin that Dallas County District Judge Tammy Kemp may have violated at least four sections of the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct, the First Amendment and the Texas Bill of Rights.

“Judge Kemp otherwise appears to have handled a difficult trial with grace and aplomb, but that cannot excuse her inappropriate and unconstitutional actions,” the 2-page letter states. “We, too, believe our criminal justice system needs more compassion from judges and prosecutors. But here, compassion crossed the line into coercion. 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.”

Guyger, 31, erroneously parked on the fourth floor of the South Side Apartments on Sept. 7, 2018, mistook Jean’s apartment for her apartment that was on the third floor, and entered the ajar door before firing into the dark at what she believed was an intruder and striking Jean in the chest.

Jurors declined to convict her on a lesser charge of manslaughter. Jean was wearing white boxer shorts at the time, eating a bowl of ice cream in front of his television.

Jean’s younger brother, Brandt Jean, 18, stunned the courtroom when he told Guyger during a victim-impact statement that he forgave her.

“I am speaking for myself – I love you just like everyone else,” Brandt testified. “I am not going to say I hope you rot and die like my brother did. I personally want the best for you. I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you. I love you as a person.”

Brandt then asked Kemp for permission to hug Guyger. After initially hesitating, she granted the request. A weeping Guyger ran to Brandt and they embraced for over a minute. Kemp wiped her eyes amid audible sniffles and sobs in the gallery.

Immediately after the embrace, Kemp approached the gallery and hugged Jean’s parents, speaking for several minutes before approaching Gugyer at the defense table. She briefly entered her chambers and emerged with her personal Bible that she gifted to Guyger.

“You can have [my Bible]. I have three or four more at home. This is the one I use every day,” Kemp said, according to FFRF. “This is your job for the next month. You read right here: John 3:16. And this is where you start. … This will strengthen you, you just need a tiny mustard seed of faith.”

After hugging, Kemp told Guyger, “you haven’t done as much as you think you have,” that she can be forgiven.

“You did something bad in one moment in time, what you do now matters,” Kemp said.

FFRF attorney Andrew L. Seidel said Kemp’s actions amounted to “unconstitutional proselytizing.”

“We need more compassion in our criminal justice system,” he tweeted. “But here, compassion crossed the line into coercion. Judges cannot impose their personal religion on others.”

Judge Kemp could not immediately be reached for comment outside of office hours Thursday evening.

FFRF says it has over 30,000 members across the country and over 1,300 members in Texas and that it seeks to “protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state.”

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