After religious freedom group files ethics complaint, judge explains why she gave ex-cop a hug and a Bible

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Judge Tammy Kemp said she gave former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger a hug after she asked for one and a Bible after she said she didn’t have one.

Kemp spoke with the New York Times and the Associated Press about her actions last Wednesday after Guyger had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for fatally shooting her neighbor. The Freedom From Religion Foundation has filed an ethics complaint arguing that Kemp “crossed the line into coercion” when she gave Guyger the Bible.

Guyger had testified during the trial that she fatally shot 26-year-old Botham Jean after entering his unlocked apartment in the mistaken belief it was her own. Guyger thought Jean that was a threatening intruder. Jean was black, and Guyger is white.

During his victim impact statement, Jean’s brother, Brandt Jean, said he forgave Guyger and asked permission to hug her. Kemp said she couldn’t refuse the request.

At the end of the proceedings, Kemp stepped down from the bench to offer condolences to Botham Jean’s parents. Then she walked over to the defense table to speak with Guyger.

“I said to her, ‘Ms. Guyger, Brandt Jean has forgiven you,’ ” Kemp told the New York Times. “ ‘Now, please forgive yourself, so that you can live a productive life when you get out of prison.’ ”

Kemp said Guyger asked whether her life could have a purpose. Kemp said she told Guyger that she knew it was possible. Then Guyger said, “ ‘I don’t know where to start, I don’t have a Bible,’ ” Kemp told the New York Times. It was then that Kemp went to get her own personal Bible from her chambers.

Together, they read “John 3:16.”

Guyger then asked for a hug. At first, Kemp said, she hesitated. “I’m a little embarrassed to say she had to ask me twice,” Kemp told the New York Times.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation alleged in its complaint that Kemp’s actions amounted to proselytizing in violation of the First Amendment’s establishment clause. A press release is here.

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.

Kenneth Williams, a professor at the South Texas College of Law, pointed out another potential problem in an interview with the Washington Post. It’s possible that Guyger will appeal the decision, and the case would end up back in front of Kemp.

Kemp might have to recuse herself in that situation, Williams told the Post. “There would certainly be questions about whether she’s neutral and impartial,” he said.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Jurors convict ex-cop who shot man after entering wrong apartment; ‘castle doctrine’ is at issue”

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