UPDATE: FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — A white Fort Worth police officer who shot and killed a black woman through a back window of her home while responding to a call about an open front door was charged with murder on Monday after resigning from the force.
Aaron Dean, 34, was booked into jail on a murder charge Monday afternoon. The police chief said earlier in the day that he acted without justification and would have been fired if he didn’t quit.
Police bodycam video showed Dean approaching the door of the home where Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was caring for her 8-year-old nephew early Saturday. He then walked around the side of the house, pushed through a gate into the fenced-off backyard and fired through the glass a split-second after shouting at Jefferson to show her hands.
Dean was not heard identifying himself as police on the video, and Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus said there was no sign Dean or the other officer who responded even knocked on the front door.
“Nobody looked at this video and said that there’s any doubt that this officer acted inappropriately,” Kraus said.
Earlier in the day, Jefferson’s family had demanded that Dean, a member of the force for 1½ years, be fired and arrested.
“Why this man is not in handcuffs is a source of continued agitation for this family and for this community,” family attorney Lee Merritt said, hours before Dean was booked into jail.
Police went to Jefferson’s home about 2:25 a.m. after a neighbor called a non-emergency line to report a door ajar. In a statement over the weekend, the department said officers saw someone near a window inside the home and that one of them drew his gun and fired after “perceiving a threat.”
The video showed Dean shouting, “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” and immediately firing.
Jefferson was staying up late, playing video games with her nephew, when she was killed, according to the family’s attorney.
As for what, exactly, led Dean to open fire, the police chief said: “I cannot make sense of why she had to lose her life.” The chief said Dean resigned without talking to internal affairs investigators.
The video included images of a gun inside a bedroom. Kraus said he did not know whether Jefferson was holding the weapon. But he said the mere fact she had a gun shouldn’t be considered unusual in Texas.
“We’re homeowners in Texas,” the police chief said. “Most of us, if we thought we had somebody outside our house that shouldn’t be and we had access to a firearm, we would be acting very similarly to how she was acting.” Kraus said that, in hindsight, releasing the images of the weapon was “a bad thing to do.”
Mayor Betsy Price called the gun “irrelevant.”
“Atatiana was in her own home, caring for her 8-year-old nephew. She was a victim,” Price said.
Texas has had a “castle doctrine” law on the books since 2007 that gives people a stronger legal defense to use deadly force in their homes. The law was backed at the time by the National Rifle Association and is similar to “stand your ground” measures across the U.S. that say a person has no duty to retreat from an intruder.
Fort Worth is about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Dallas, where another high-profile police shooting occurred last year.
In that case, white Dallas officer Amber Guyger shot and killed her black neighbor Botham Jean inside his own apartment after Guyger said she mistook his place for her own. Guyger, 31, was sentenced this month to 10 years in prison.
A large crowd gathered outside Jefferson’s home Sunday night for a vigil after demonstrations briefly stopped traffic on Interstate 35. A single bullet hole was visible in the window of the single-story, freshly painted purple home, and floral tributes and stuffed animals piled up in the street.
The police chief said Dean could face state charges and that he had submitted a case to the FBI to review for possible federal civil rights charges.
Dean has not yet hired an attorney but will have one provided with financial support from the state’s largest police union, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, according to Charley Wilkison, executive director.
Relations with the public have been strained after other recent Fort Worth police shootings. In June, the department released footage of officers killing a man who ignored repeated orders to drop his handgun. He was the fourth person Fort Worth police had fired upon in 10 days.
Of the nine officer-involved shootings so far this year in Fort Worth, five targeted African Americans and six resulted in death, according to department data.
Nearly two-thirds of the department’s 1,100 officers are white, just over 20% are Hispanic, and about 10% are black. The city of nearly 900,000 people is about 40% white, 35% Hispanic and 19% black.
Calling the shooting “a pivotal moment in our city,” the mayor said she was ordering a top-to-bottom review of the police force and vowed to “rebuild a sense of trust within the city and with our police department.”
Jefferson was a 2014 graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology. She was working in pharmaceutical equipment sales and was considering going to medical school, according to the family’s lawyer.
FORT WORTH, Tex. (WFAA) – The Fort Worth police officer who killed Atatiana Jefferson resigned Monday before he could be fired, said interim police Chief Ed Kraus.
The chief said during a news conference Monday that he planned to terminate Aaron Dean, who was hired in April 2018, but the officer resigned before their planned meeting.
Dean still could face criminal charges, Kraus said.
“He resigned before his opportunity to cooperate” with the investigation, the chief said.
City officials have asked for a third-party panel to assess the Fort Worth Police Department, said Mayor Betsy Price.
“There’s nothing that can justify what happened on Saturday morning. Nothing,” she said.
The mayor also said the Police Department should not have released an image of a firearm found inside Jefferson’s home. Police officials said the gun was found in a bedroom in the home but did not say whether it was related to the shooting.
“The gun was irrelevant,” Price said Monday.
Police and city officials hosted the news conference just hours after civil rights attorney Lee Merritt and Jefferson’s family called for an independent investigation.
Price said city officials have requested the Federal Bureau of Investigation to look into the shooting and determine whether Dean committed civil rights violations.
The mayor also said police leadership had requested assistance from the Texas Rangers, who declined to assist.
Jefferson was shot through a window in her home after 2:30 a.m. Saturday in the 1200 block of Allen Avenue.
A neighbor called the non-emergency line to request a welfare check at the house. The front door was open, but a screen door was closed at the house.
Merritt said the family had left the doors open because it was one of the first nice evenings of the fall season. Jefferson had moved into the home to help care for her ailing mother.
She was playing Call of Duty with her 8-year-old nephew, Zion.
Zion was in the room when Jefferson was killed and saw his aunt fall to the ground.
Responding officers parked around the corner and did not knock before Dean started walking around the outside of the home, police officials confirmed Monday.
Dean’s body-camera footage shows the officer stop at the front door and then walk around the side of the home, through a gate and into the backyard. He fired once into a window, striking Jefferson.
Jefferson, 28, died at the scene.
Merritt questioned the police response to what had been a welfare request made to a non-emergency line.
He said believed officers reacted differently because they were in a predominantly black neighborhood than they would’ve had they gone to a white neighborhood.
“This is a patter for that department,” Merritt said. “It seems common when dealing with people of African-American descent.”