The family of a slain Dallas man who was expected to be a witness in a civil case against the city has called for an independent investigation into his killing.
Joshua Brown was shot to death Friday night, 10 days after testifying in the trial of Dallas Police Officer Amber Guyger. Guyger was convicted of murder last week for shooting a neighbor, Botham Jean, in September 2018.
Guyger said she entered Jean’s unlocked apartment, which was one floor above her own, by mistake, and shot him in the belief he was a burglar. Brown, who lived on the same floor as Jean, was a witness for the prosecution in Guyger’s murder trial and was set to testify in a civil suit brought by his family against the city.
Jean was black. Guyger is white.
Brown was killed Friday night outside his new apartment, in a different building. On Tuesday, the Dallas Police Department said they had two suspects in custody and a warrant for a third.
Lee Merritt, an attorney who represented Jean’s family and is now representing Brown’s, called for an independent investigation by the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office or the U.S. Department of Justice.
“This family and their representatives have consciously avoided speculating about law enforcement involvement in this tragedy; however, due to the proximity of this murder with the trial of Amber Guyger — rumors abound,” Merritt wrote, adding, “A cloud of suspicion will rest over this case until steps are taken to ensure the trustworthiness of the process.”
Those sentiments were echoed by the NAACP Legal Defense Fund after Brown’s death but before the arrests. The organization endorsed calls from Allison Jean, Botham’s mother, for the Dallas Police Department to “clean up inside” amid concerns of evidence tampering during the Guyger trial.
“The circumstances surrounding the murder of Mr. Brown cries out for answers. Most importantly, it demands an independent investigation of how and why he was killed,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, the legal defense fund’s president and director-counsel. “We urge state or federal authorities to follow the trail of misconduct left by this case and fully investigate the circumstances surrounding Mr. Brown’s death. It is critical to public confidence in the administration of justice that witnesses who speak out against police violence are fully protected. The suspicious circumstances of Mr. Brown’s killing should cause great alarm and demand an immediate and piercing inquiry. We echo Allison Jean’s statement that the ‘corruption we saw during this process must stop,’ and support her request for a comprehensive federal investigation of the Dallas Police Department.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., referred to Brown’s death as an “injustice” in a Sunday tweet.
“Just when we caught a glimpse of justice for Botham Jean, much of it feels stolen back with the murder of Joshua Brown, a key witness in the case,” wrote Ocasio-Cortez. “My heart breaks for his family and for everyone touched by this tragedy. We must get to the bottom of this injustice.”
According to the police, Brown died in a drug deal gone bad. The department said there was an altercation outside Brown’s apartment complex involving three Louisiana men that ended with Brown shooting one of the men and being killed himself before the men fled, taking Brown’s bag and gun. The wounded suspect was brought to a hospital, and survived.
Acting on a tip, the police said they found 12 pounds of marijuana, 149 grams of THC cartridges and more than $4,000 in cash in Brown’s apartment.
There was no testimony at Guyger’s trial indicating that Brown was dealing drugs.
Dallas Deputy Police Chief Avery Moore dismissed any suggestion that Brown’s killing was connected to his testimony against Guyger, or that the department was implicated.
“I assure you that is simply not true,” Moore said. “I encourage those leaders to be mindful of their actions moving forward, because their words have jeopardized the integrity of the city of Dallas as well as the Dallas Police Department.”
Brown testified that he heard Guyger and Jean speaking before the shooting, but did not hear the shouted warnings Guyger testified she gave. After shooting Jean, Guyger texted her partner, whom she was having a sexual relationship with, that she “f***ed up” while on the phone with 911 before later deleting her texts. Jean, a 26-year-old accountant, was watching TV when Guyger entered. She said she mistook the apartment for her own.
“[Brown] had been shot less than a year ago and someone standing near him was killed,” Merritt said. “He was reluctant to testify in this case because he had been shot at and he thought some people might want to do harm to him.”
On Tuesday night, the first meeting of a new Community Police Oversight Board led to a violent clash between activists and police. Chief Reneé Hall had supported the board’s creation in the wake of the Jean shooting to increase transparency, but the meeting was cut short when those in attendance realized public comment was not on the agenda in the wake of Brown’s shooting. Activists had previously protested the makeup of the three-person board.