Trick or Treat: Should Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot Also be Afforded Judicial Grace and Forgiveness?
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Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot (Photo: wfaa.com)
State District Court Judge Tammy Kemp (Photo via AP)
If the history of murder trials in Dallas County were to be written, the Amber Guyger case would certainly rise to the top.
The trial of former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was watched around the world. It gained international attention because it was unthinkable that a young, innocent, salt-of-the-earth, unarmed professional black man relaxing in his apartment in Dallas, Texas, could be murdered there by an intruder who was a Dallas police officer.
The white female Dallas police officer all along maintained she thought she was in her apartment. She said she felt justified in firing two bullets into the chest of Botham Jean, one bullet piercing his heart because she was "scared" thinking he was an intruder. He was eating a bowl of ice cream in his apartment.
Botham Jean was only 26 years old. Living his dream of graduating from high school in St. Lucia, being accepted into a Christian college in the United States, he leaves an indelible mark for such a short time on earth.
He mesmerized classmates, professors and executive staff with his infectious smile, a heart for serving others and a spirit of excellence. He did the same as a young professional accountant, employed by one of the largest and most prestigious accounting firms in the world. Settling into a life that was sure to be nothing short of successful.
Botham came from a good family. A loving mother, loving and present father. A sister and brother who talked of their love and admiration for their brother and the unbearable pain of his death.
Botham Jean's hurting mother and father (Photo via The Dallas Morning News)
The black community and many in the faith community in Dallas were outraged; demanding justice from a judicial system that historically in America, gives accused officers a pass.
Surely in Dallas County, with a younger, more progressive majority-minority population from which to select jurors of her peers; and, a trio of black leadership in key criminal justice positions, Amber Guyger would be judged more fairly.
After all, the Chief of Police is a black female. The District Attorney is a black male. And the presiding Judge, Tammy Kemp, has a reputation as a well-regarded, fair, no-nonsense judge.
All are Democrats. All are Christians.
Sidebar - Why mention their party affiliation and faith? Because of the false narrative in this country among way too many that white Republicans and white evangelicals somehow have the market on Christianity and sense of fairness. They don't. And to show that these are people of faith and goodwill. There was no racial bias in this case on their part as many whites tried to insist. None.
Judge Tammy Kemp is not a "wild-eyed black liberal progressive judge" as hosts on Dallas area conservative talk radio stations and most of their callers had surmised - stirring up needless anger and hardening the racial divide. But hey, that's what keeps these guys in business.
The jury was comprised of eight women and four men - five black, four Hispanic and two white. Many whites complained that Guyger would be crucified because she is white, female and law enforcement.
As it turned out, Guyger only received a ten-year sentence and will be eligible for parole in five. She will be able to continue to live life as a young, free, 36-year old white woman in America. An ex-police officer whom to many never should have been found guilty of murder.
Convicted murderer Amber Guyger (Dallas County Sheriff's Department via AP)
Odds are good she will be given gainful employment, if not a book deal; and, the opportunity she took from Botham - the opportunity to live.
The Dallas County judicial system did what many thought would be impossible. The team won! From arrest to conviction.
But only in Dallas could such a win be marred by infighting which to many looking on, including me, can only be chalked up in my humble opinion to nothing less than an egotistical show of power.
This is not an indictment of Judge Kemp. I do not know her. But I would like to. She demonstrated incredible grace and compassion at the end of the trial in that breathtaking and never-before-seen moment when she retreated to her chambers, came out with her Bible, strode over to Guyger and in a magnanimous Christlike gesture, gifted Guyger with her Bible, as she patiently explained the love and forgiveness of Christ.
In one poignant moment, Judge Tammy Kemp became to many of us, even Christians around the world, even to many white evangelicals in America, a heroine in the faith.
Such a public display of faith by someone in her position was awe-inspiring and affirming to so many of us who daily fight for Christian space in public space.
So Why This?
Given all of that, I and many others are left scratching our head as to why, only two days after showing convicted murderer Amber Guyger such grace, that Judge Kemp would come down hard on Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot - slapping him with an order to appear before her on Halloween to answer the charge of Contempt of Court.
Judge Kemp issued a gag order in January prohibiting any attorney or personnel of the district attorney's office from talking publicly about the case.
However, the order reads, statements regarding "the general nature of the proceedings" are permissible.
Kemp has come under fire from the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF), a pro-atheist advocacy group who has filed a complaint with the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct, alleging she overstepped her judicial authority and "transmitted her personal religious beliefs as a state official in an official proceeding of the gravest nature, a setting that imposed on everyone in the courtroom: attorneys, staff, family members and the convicted..."
To his credit when asked if anyone should file a complaint against Judge Kemp for her actions, the District Attorney, himself a former longtime state district court judge, told a local TV news station, "I would do everything I could to support the appropriateness of it (giving Guyger the bible). I can't tell you I've done the same exact thing, but I have spoken to defendants, have I given them a hug, perhaps. Not a bible, that's not me, but I don't think there's anything inappropriate about what she did."
All should have been well. A hard case decided in favor of the family. Judge Kemp hailed as a heroine. District Attorney Creuzot and his team won an improbable murder conviction. Even the murderer got something from the deal - forgiveness.
What more could we ask? Then bam! The District Attorney and all of Dallas were blindsided by Judge Kemp's Contempt of Court Order demanding DA Creuzot appear before her court on October 31st to make the case why he should not be held in contempt of court for this clip from an interview that aired the day before the trial began.
The gag order clearly states that statements regarding "the general nature of the proceedings" are okay. I am not an attorney but having watched the short clip several times, there is nothing I see the DA said that wasn't of the "general nature of the proceedings."
According to the Contempt Order the actions of DA Creuzot in that seconds-long clip "did obstruct the administration of justice and impair the ability of the court to conduct its business with dignity and in an orderly and expeditious manner." Really? Really?
How could there be any obstruction when all twelve jurors and four alternates, when questioned by Judge Kemp, said they had not seen the interview? Judge Kemp was not even aware of the interview until it was brought to her attention by the defense in their quest to use it to convince her to declare a mistrial. She rightly did not; and, but for the few exceptions when someone dared allowed their electronic devices to go off, there was absolutely no disorder.
I, along with thousands, watched daily the live stream of proceedings and I was consistently impressed by a no-nonsense Judge Kemp who was nothing less than flawless in impressively running a tight ship, demonstrating fairness while judiciously exercising remarkable restraint with both sides.
There appeared to be no impairment of the ability to conduct the business of the court "with dignity and in an orderly and expeditious manner" because of that interview, and after the first day, no one except obviously the Judge held it in their mind and heart.
The defense now certainly if the case is appealed, will use this gag order to strengthen their case.
Trick or Treat?
I am neither defending the District Attorney's actions nor attacking Judge Kemp's. But again, I ask the question, why?
Can't we as a community begin to heal from this case as leaders are pressed on more important issues such as working with Chief Renee Hall as she reviews the practices of the Dallas Police Department? Partnerships and leadership are what's needed now.
Come on Dallas County team - you scored a BIG win! To me, this is nothing more than one elected official trying to prove a point over another elected official.
Who's the badest? Yes, Judge Kemp has every right under the law to drag the DA down to her court for him to grovel and give cause as to why he should not be held in contempt and not be ordered to spend up to 180 days in the County jail.
To me, as a Christian and as a Dallas County taxpayer, this brother and sister in Christ could have settled this manner with a simple private phone call after the trial whereby Judge Kemp could have expressed her dismay. As a fellow Christ-follower, this is all so disappointing to me.
The gag order clearly states that statements regarding "the general nature of the proceedings" are okay.
Grace is a wonderful thing to which I am sure Amber Guyger would testify. But the unintended consequences of Judge Kemp's actions in issuing this Contempt of Court Order, unfortunately, further divide an already fragile community.
I along with many are asking the question, with all things being equal, does the Dallas County District Attorney deserve the same judicial grace and forgiveness shown by this judge that she showed towards a City of Dallas former police officer convicted of murder?
Come Halloween, we shall see.
Trick or treat Dallas.
Dorothy Burton is the founder of Christians in Public Service and is a popular conference speaker and author of the book, Why We Fall: The Power of Self-Awareness. Follow her new Podcast, "Making Sense with Dorothy Burton" for provocative discussions on life, liberty and the pursuit of truth in culture, Christianity, public service and leadership. Contact Dorothy:
Published on Monday, October 7, 2019 @ 12:56 PM CDT