What We Know About the Fort Worth Police Shooting of Atatiana Jefferson
Days after a woman was fatally shot by the Fort Worth police, the officer who fired one bullet through her bedroom window while conducting a wellness check was arrested and charged with murder.
Although the circumstances have varied, it was yet another example of a white officer killing a black person, raising nationwide questions about policing practices and racial profiling. The shock of Saturday’s shooting further strained the relationship between residents and the Fort Worth Police Department.
The woman who was killed, Atatiana Jefferson, had been up late playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew, according to the family’s lawyer. She was shot by an officer, Aaron Y. Dean, who was standing in her backyard with a flashlight and a gun. He resigned on Monday, hours before the police chief had planned to fire him.
Here is what we know about the shooting and its aftermath:
Aaron Dean was released from jail and is not cooperating
Mr. Dean, who had been placed on administrative leave before he resigned, has not answered questions from investigators, said Ed Kraus, the interim police chief. He was released from the Tarrant County jail on Monday night after posting a $200,000 bond.
He joined the department in April 2018, one month after graduating from the police academy, and the only notable entry in his personnel file was for a traffic accident. The president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association said Mr. Dean had never been the subject of an investigation and was “very shaken up” by the shooting.
Atatiana Jefferson wanted to attend medical school
Ms. Jefferson, 28, sold medical pharmaceutical equipment from home while studying to apply to medical school. She had earned a degree in biology from Xavier University of Louisiana in 2014.
Ms. Jefferson was a loving aunt who would play basketball and video games with her nephews, her sister Amber Carr said. She had recently moved in with her mother, who had health problems — and learned about her daughter’s shooting while in a hospital.
The police were responding to a neighbor’s call
One of Ms. Jefferson’s neighbors, James Smith, had called a nonemergency line at 2:23 a.m. on Saturday to express concern that the doors of Ms. Jefferson’s house had been open for several hours.
“I haven’t seen anybody moving around,” he told the dispatcher in a calm voice. “It’s not normal for them to have the doors open this time of night.”
Mr. Smith’s niece later said that he was upset with how the police responded, and that he had never suggested a burglary was taking place.
The deadly shooting happened swiftly
Body camera footage released by the Police Department provides some details of the shooting.
Two officers responding to the call parked a block away from Ms. Jefferson’s house before unlatching a fence door and entering the backyard. “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” Mr. Dean yelled when he saw Ms. Jefferson. He then immediately fired one shot through the glass.
“Nobody looked at that video and said there was any doubt that this officer acted inappropriately,” Chief Kraus said. “I get it. We’re trying to train our officers better.”
The officers did not identify themselves to Ms. Jefferson before she was killed.
Community members still have concerns
Hundreds of people gathered in front of Ms. Jefferson’s home on Sunday evening, chanting and calling for Mr. Dean to be prosecuted. On Monday, after the former officer was charged, many were cautious about declaring victory.
“Fort Worth has a culture that has allowed this to happen,” said S. Lee Merritt, a lawyer representing Ms. Jefferson’s family. “There still needs to be a reckoning.”
Many activists thought Amber R. Guyger, a former Dallas police officer, was treated leniently when she was sentenced to 10 years in prison for murdering Botham Shem Jean in his apartment.
So Michael Bell, a pastor in Fort Worth, said he was waiting to see how this current case would be prosecuted. “Our community has experienced so much,” he said. “I don’t want to go overboard and start any kind of celebration because I don’t know how it’s going to turn out.”
The Police Department is familiar with criticism
The previous police chief was fired in May, and observers have noted that Fort Worth officers have fatally shot six people since June. One man who was killed was pointing a flashlight at officers after barricading himself inside a house; they thought it was a rifle.
Other high-profile confrontations include one with a black woman who filed a federal lawsuit in 2017 against a white Fort Worth police officer, claiming that he used excessive force while arresting her and her daughters. In 2009, a man with a history of mental illness died after he was Tasered by the Fort Worth police, which his family had called for help.
In response to a task force’s recommendations, the City Council in September created a police monitor position, set up a police cadet program and began a diversity and inclusion program. After Ms. Jefferson’s death, Mayor Betsy Price said the city was planning to have national experts review the department and its policies.
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