By Jacob Vaughn
Protesters gathered outside the Dallas Police Association building in the Cedars near sunset. They held signs reading “Mata Gotta Go” and “Resign Mata,” calling for the firing of DPA President Mike Mata. The activists allege Mata broke police protocol after one of the department’s former officers, Amber Guyger, shot and killed Botham Jean, an unarmed black man, in his own apartment, which she said she mistook for hers.
Dominique Alexander, the founder of local activist group Next Generation Action Network, which organized the Sept. 27 demonstration, said the DPA controls the culture of the Dallas Police Department.
“The vibrations of the police start here, and that’s a problem,” Alexander said. “This entity has always historically fought between the community and its desire to reform the police department.”
The night of the shooting in September 2018, Mata visited Guyger on the scene at South Side Flats, the apartment complex in the Cedars where Jean was killed, according to The Dallas Morning News. He instructed another officer to shut off the in-car camera system of the vehicle that would transport Guyger so they could speak in private, according to The Dallas Morning News. Prosecutors in the ongoing case against Guyger alleged that doing so was granting Guyger special treatment.
“We understand, Mr. Mata, it is your position to protect your law enforcement officers from the community, but when your law enforcement officers are bad, it is also your responsibility to hold them accountable and protect the community from them,” Pamela L. Grayson, a local activist, said. “That’s where Mr. Mata has failed. How do you justify breaking police protocol and turning off cameras?”
In court last week, Sgt. Breanna Valentine, the officer who shut off the in-car camera system, testified that had she known Guyger was off-duty, she would have left the camera on, according to the Morning News.
Under the department’s policy, police are not prohibited from consulting a “companion” officer at the time of an officer-involved shooting. However, given that Guyger was off-duty at the time, it is not clear whether this rule applied in the Jean shooting.
Dallas police officers are allowed to terminate recordings under certain circumstances, according to The Dallas Morning News. However, failing to activate a body camera or intentionally terminating a recording in order to commit a violation of law or department policy is itself a violation of DPD policy.
Officers were posted down the street from the protest. Their patrol cars were parked behind them in a line. A helicopter circled overhead as an American flag outside the DPA building flapped in the wind. A sign Grayson held said Mata has no integrity or concern for victims of police brutality and that he treats the association like a frat house.
Another activist, Jennifer Cortez, said she lives on the floor at the South Side Flats where Jean was killed. She walked from her apartment to the DPA building for the protest.
“What happened when she walked into that room was, she saw a black man,” Cortez says. “Because I’m not a black man, I probably wouldn’t have been shot.” Additionally, Cortez condemned Mata for having a Hispanic surname yet being on the wrong side of justice.
“If we as brown and black people don’t start standing together, ain’t nothing gonna happen,” Cortez said. “Shame on [Mata] for having a Hispanic surname and doing this stuff, because this is why our communities can’t trust each other.”
Alexander said the DPA has always tried to divide the narrative on police brutality by saying people should back the blue.
“I believe we all back the damn blue when we pay our tax dollars. That’s not the question here,” Alexander said. “What we’re saying is that we’re tired of you killing us in our communities, we’re tired of you putting a target on our black and brown bodies, we’re tired of people like Tony Timpa dying and families having to ask the question, ‘Why?’”
In an Oct. 2 press conference, DPD police chief Renee Hall said an internal affairs investigation into the Guyger case would be launched.
Mata could not be reached for comment. However, in an interview with WFAA, Mata said he will not resign and that he welcomes an internal affairs investigation. Mata said that on the night of the Jean shooting, he was acting not as an officer but as the president of a labor organization.