Two years ago, Allison Jean received confusing news in the middle of the night that her 26-year-old son had been shot and killed in his Dallas apartment. The details she received at first were sketchy and left her wondering, had this been a break in? Was he the victim of a stray bullet? It wasn’t until hours later that she got the news that her son, Botham Jean, had been killed while eating ice cream and watching football by an off duty Dallas police officer who entered the wrong apartment. Amber Guyger’s decision to shoot first and ask questions later cost Botham Jean his life and changed his family forever.
On September 6, the two-year anniversary of his death, Botham Jean’s family spent the day going to church and visiting his grave where he is buried in his native St. Lucia. They left flowers and began singing some of his favorite songs. Then they came back to his family home and sat together to watch “The Ballad of Botham Jean,” a two-hour episode of Investigation Discovery’s (ID) Impact Of Murder series, which premieres on Thursday, September 10 from 9 to 11 p.m. EDT/PDT.
“My husband and I watched it before everyone else. We had to watch it in several parts, so that when I watched it with the rest of the family it wouldn’t be as hard,” said Allison Jean in an interview with BET.com. “There were still other family members who had to leave the room, but being surrounded by family and friends gave me so much more comfort.”
The documentary goes beyond the headlines of this case to introduce you to Jean’s life and the circumstances around his death. The middle child of West Indian parents, Jean came to the United States to attend college. His intention was to become an accountant and eventually return to St. Lucia with the dreams of possibly one day becoming prime minister. Active in his church and deeply rooted in his Christian faith, Jean’s life story is told through the eyes of those who knew him best before and after his death.
“I felt that the documentary was a good opportunity to continue his legacy because there are so many people who didn’t truly know him,” said his mother. “It’s also an opportunity to show the unfortunate issues of police brutality and what happened in this case and the treatment that she [Amber Guyger] was given by her peers and the corrupt practices by the police dept. People need to know that police brutality is real and despite all of the protests, we have not seen a stop to it. I’m hoping that this documentary will cause some greater sensitivity to Black lives.”
The episode includes interviews with parents, older sister, Allisa Findley, and his younger brother Brandt Jean, who created a firestorm of confusion during his victim impact statement after Guyger received her 10-year sentence. Brandt Jean shockingly expressed feelings of forgiveness and even went so far as to ask the judge to embrace Guyger in court. It’s something no one expected him to do, especially not his mother, but in the episode, viewers will get a better understanding as to why.
Watch a preview of the episode below, which airs September 10 from 9 to 11 p.m. EDT/PDT.
“I understood his response,” said his mother. “Brandt didn’t grow up understanding or seeing racism. Where we live, it’s 90 percent Black, so I understood all he wanted to do is bring back the Christian principles that we espoused to him. He never thought of this as black and white. My son wanted to free himself of the anger and pain that he had held in for the past year. This was really his opportunity to free himself.”
Guyger, who recently appealed her conviction last month, claimed that she thought an intruder was entering her home. From the moment she shot and killed Botham Jean in 2018, the Dallas Police Department protected her by cutting off body cam footage and allowing her 72 hours before having to issue her statement. The Dallas police also revealed that Jean had a small amount of marijuana in his home, in an attempt to turn him into the villain and Guyger somehow into a damsel in distress.
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In December, a federal judge ruled that the city of Dallas was not liable for the Amber Guyger shooting. Guyger will be eligible for parole after serving five years of her sentence.
September 29 would have been Botham Jean’s 29th birthday and for Allison Jean it will be another reminder of all that she has lost. She has unfortunately had to revisit the turmoil of losing her son every time she hears about another Black person dying at the hands of a white police officer as was the case with Ahamd Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. And while thousands of people have walked the streets in protest, Allison Jean knows personally what it is like to lose a child in this way.
While Botham Jean will not be here to celebrate another year of life, his family has preserved his legacy through the Botham Jean Foundation, a non-profit organization that continues the good works he first started in St. Lucia. Run by his sister along with his parents, they have provided over 1,000 backpacks to students in Dallas and St. Lucia and continue to serve communities in need during the coronavirus pandemic.
“What gives me the greatest joy in the midst of all that pain is that we created this foundation,” said Allison Jean. “We’re all hoping to just continue the legacy Botham started.”
Watch season 2 of IMPACT OF MURDER on ID premieres on Thursday, September 10 at 9:00 p.m. ET/8:00 p.m. C with “The Ballad of Botham Jean.”
Boston Globe / Contributor