Family of Man Killed in Apartment Mix-Up Files Wrongful Death Suit

Botham Jean speaks at Harding University in March 2014. (Jeff Montgomery/Harding University via AP)

DALLAS (CN) — The family of Botham Jean has filed a wrongful death and products liability lawsuit, claiming the door in his apartment failed to close as designed and allowed former Dallas cop Amber Guyger to enter, mistake Jean as an intruder in her own apartment and shoot him to death while he was eating ice cream.

Parents Bertrum and Allison Jean and sister Allisa Findley sued property owner WRPV XIII Southside Flats Dallas LLC, property manager Waterton Residential LLC and door part manufacturer Dormakaba Group USA Inc. in Dallas County District Court on Tuesday.

Guyger, a white woman, killed Jean, a 26-year-old Black man, in his fourth-floor apartment on Sept. 7, 2018, after entering through his ajar door at the end of her shift at Dallas police headquarters across the street.

Jean’s family claims the doors at the property “are designed to securely close without having to use force,” but that tenants reported multiple cases of the door parts being unreliable and not working consistently.

“When Guyger reached Botham’s door, either the door had not closed as it was designed to do, or Guyger’s key fob allowed her to access an apartment door that was not hers, as it was not designed to do,” the 21-page complaint states. “Either circumstance created an unreasonably dangerous condition that allowed someone access to an apartment that was not theirs.”

Jean was working as an accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Dallas and was an alumnus of Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas.

Guyger, 32, is currently serving 10 years in state prison for murder. A Dallas County jury convicted her last year, declining to convict her on a lesser charge of manslaughter.

It represents one of the rare murder convictions against a white police officer in the killing of an unarmed Black person. Prosecutors portrayed Guyger as flippant, showing jurors text messages and social media posts she made joking about the death of Martin Luther King Jr., pepper-straying parade attendees and killing people.

Guyger’s apartment was directly below Jean’s on the third floor. Jean’s parents and sister claim the floors look too similar to each other, citing testimony by lead investigator and Texas Ranger David Armstrong during the murder trial that 43% of tenants on the third and fourth floors admitted to having walked to the wrong apartment on the wrong floor.

“Guyger claimed to have entered Jean’s apartment because of a malfunction in the lock to Jean’s door, the absurd design of the building and its attached garage, and the incompetent management of the Southside Flats,” the complaint states. “In error, Guyger alleged that she drove to the fourth floor and parked her truck by backing into a spot that was in the direct line of sight of the entryway into the building.”

The plaintiffs claim that during an experiment by Armstrong when the humidity was high, Jean’s door would not fully latch depending on the distance the door was opened before it was let go.

“The ‘strike plate’ in the door was defectively designed in a manner that caused it to crack when moisture was in the air, inhibiting the closure of the door,” the lawsuit states. “Defendant knew of safer alternative designs to the door, strike plate, and locking mechanism that were available at the time of production.”

South Side Flats and Dormakaba did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit Wednesday afternoon.

The Jean family filed a separate wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Dallas and Guyger in federal court in 2018, alleging violations of Jean’s Fourth Amendment rights. The city was dismissed as a defendant last year after a judge concluded there was no liability because of no police department policies in place regarding the conduct of off-duty officers.

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