The judge accused of abusing her power at the conclusion of a high-profile trial says justice, fairness, and compassion guide her decisions. State District Judge Tammy Kemp, who’s also a church deaconess, says faith affects how she runs her courtroom. “I’m pretty strict,” she says, “but I also try to save every person that I can save.”
Kemp was criticized for hugging and giving a Bible to former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger after sentencing her to 10 years in prison. Guyger shot and killed Botham Jean in his apartment last year after mistaking it as her own. Jean’s brother Brandt asked Kemp’s permission to embrace Guyger, and that act of forgiveness is generating debate.
In an interview with the Dallas NBC affiliate, Kemp says she thought cameras were off when she hugged Guyger and admits Guyger had to ask her twice for that hug. After remembering “my responsibility as to how I conduct myself as a judge,” Kemp says she couldn’t refuse the request. Referring to Micah 6:8, she says, “What does the Lord require of you? To do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly.”
Brother Radiated Love, Says Judge Tammy Kemp
Brandt Jean’s actions, which one reporter called “an unexpected punctuation to a sentence,” radiated love and overwhelming humanity, Kemp says. “There was a huge release of emotion and tension, and there was a level of hope. It was absolutely amazing to see.”
Amid accusations of “proselytizing from the bench,” Kemp is surprised people think her embrace of Guyger “was somehow detrimental.” The judge says, “Had you witnessed a person who was hurting as Ms. Guyger was, I don’t know a person who would have denied her that human contact.” While everyone else had watched the defendant “from the back,” Kemp says, “I watched her from the front, and there was a dramatic change” in her throughout the trial.
Though Kemp had never given a defendant a Bible before, she says it’s “not my first time being compassionate” in the courtroom—and she doesn’t understand why that angers some people. “If you profess religious beliefs and you are going to follow them,” she says, “I would hope that they not be situational and limited to one race only.”
Judge Tammy Kemp: “There is always a person behind the act”
If the justice system were always clear cut, Kemp says, “We wouldn’t need judges; we could just use computers.” But because of the human element, she takes time to get to know the people in her courtroom. “There is always a person behind the act,” she says. Though they still must face consequences, she says, “They are still a person worthy of love, forgiveness, compassion.”
Kemp wanted to tell Guyger to forgive herself and to remember that prison isn’t “the end of your story.” Tragedies can eventually benefit society, Kemp says, and that’s why she directed Guyger to John 3:16 and the gospels. “She still has a lot of life ahead of her following her sentence,” Kemp says, “and I would hope that she could live it purposefully.”