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Convicted Dallas police officer Amber Guyger received a hug from the victim’s brother and a Bible from the judge after the sentencing hearing.
But the gift from Judge Tammy Kemp to Guyger sparked a judicial misconduct complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, report the Dallas Morning News and the Texas Lawyer. A press release is here.
Guyger was convicted of murder Tuesday for fatally shooting Botham Jean, a black man, after mistaking his apartment for hers. Guyger had said she feared for her life after opening the unlocked door and seeing a “silhouette figure” in the dark apartment. She was sentenced Wednesday to 10 years in prison.
Jean’s brother, Brandt Jean, sought permission to hug Guyger during his victim impact statement. Kemp also hugged Guyger and gave Guyger her personal Bible after the hearing. Kemp asked Guyger to look at “John 3:16” and told her that she could be forgiven.
The complaint by the Freedom From Religion Foundation acknowledged that it was an emotional moment, and that private citizens may express their religious beliefs in court. The foundation also said more compassion was needed in the criminal justice system. “But here, compassion crossed the line into coercion,” said the complaint, filed Thursday with the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Kemp “was in a government courtroom, dressed in a judicial robe, with all of the imprimatur of the state, including armed law enforcement officers, preaching to someone who was quite literally a captive audience, and even instructing her on which bible verses to read,” the complaint said. “Delivering bibles and personally witnessing as a judge is an egregious abuse of power.”
Hiram Sasser, general counsel for the First Liberty Institute, a nonprofit that defends religious liberty, defended Kemp’s actions.
“We should all be thankful the law allows Judge Kemp’s actions, and we stand with her and will gladly lead the charge in defending her noble and legal actions,” Sasser said in a statement.