The white Fort Worth police officer who fatally shot Atatiana Jefferson, a 28-year-old black woman, in her home has resigned and could face criminal charges, police said Monday.
The officer’s resignation and the outcome of multiple investigations into his actions are likely to serve as a stress test of relations between law enforcement and the black community in the region, which is still reeling from an earlier fatal shooting involving a white officer and a black victim.
Police identified the officer who killed Jefferson as Aaron Dean and said he had been with the Fort Worth Police Department since April 2018. Had he not resigned on his own, he would have been fired for violations of the department’s policies on use of force, de-escalation and unprofessional conduct in connection with the shooting, Fort Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus said at a news conference.
The officer “still faces criminal charges” pending an investigation, Kraus said. The department has also asked the FBI to review Dean’s actions for possible civil rights violations, according to the chief.
“None of this information can ease the pain of Atatiana’s family, but I hope it shows the community that we take these incidents seriously,” Kraus said. He apologized to the family on behalf of the department, saying he has “not been able to make sense of why she had to lose her life.”
It is not clear whether Dean has an attorney.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price also offered condolences to Jefferson’s family.
“We are all heartbroken today. Atatiana was a beautiful, smart, amazing young woman, by all accounts, who was unjustly taken from her family,” she said at the news conference. “There is nothing that could justify what happened Saturday morning.”
The swift condemnation of the shooting by city officials reflects the police department’s efforts to ease tensions between police and black residents, which flared around the recent trial of Amber Guyger, a white former police officer who fatally shot her unarmed black neighbor, Botham Jean, in 2018.
Earlier this month, a Dallas jury convicted Guyger of murder and sentenced her to 10 years in prison. The details of the shooting bore some parallels to the shooting of Jefferson: Both victims were young, black and in their own homes when they were killed by police. Jean, 26, was sitting on his couch in his apartment eating ice cream when Guyger entered and opened fire, apparently believing it was her own unit.
Days after Guyger’s sentencing, Joshua Brown, a key witness in the case, was fatally shot, stoking rumors that he was targeted because of his testimony. Police attributed Brown’s death to a drug deal gone awry and emphatically denied a connection to the Guyger case, but that has not quelled concerns among some local officials and activists, who have called for an independent investigation, as The Washington Post has reported.
Jefferson’s family, too, has called for an independent investigation of the officer and the department’s practices.
“We demand justice,” Jefferson’s older sister, Ashley, said during a Monday news conference, “through an independent, thorough and transparent process.”
Lee Merritt, a prominent civil rights attorney representing Jefferson’s family, said Jefferson was playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew Saturday when she thought she heard a prowler outside the house. When she went to the bedroom window to see what was going on, he said, the officer opened fire.
On Monday, Merritt demanded an outside agency investigate the officer and the department’s practices, alluding to race-based discrimination.
The police department, he said, is “trying to make a case for what we hear far too often: This officer perceived a threat and reacted according to his training.” He added that in the past six months, there have been 10 officer-involved shootings in the area.
Officers were dispatched to Jefferson’s home around 2:25 a.m. Saturday after receiving an “open structure” call, police said. A neighbor dialed a non-emergency line to request a welfare check because he noticed the door was ajar and the lights were on, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
While searching the outside of the house, police said, an officer saw someone standing near a window, and, “perceiving a threat, the officer drew his duty weapon and fired one shot striking the person inside the residence.”
Jefferson was pronounced dead at the scene.
Body-camera footage released by police showed the moments leading up to the shooting. In the footage, two officers could be seen walking quietly around the side of the house and peering through screen doors, then moving down a driveway into a backyard.
One officer approached a closed first-floor window and shined a flashlight inside, then quickly raised his gun.
“Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” he yelled. A moment later, he fired through the window. He did not identify himself as an officer in the footage.
Along with the body-camera video, police released images of a firearm officers said they found at the scene.
In Monday’s news conference, Price, the mayor, told people to disregard the weapon. “The gun is irrelevant,” she said. “She was in her own home caring for an 8-year-old nephew.”
Price also apologized to James Smith, the neighbor who called police to Jefferson’s home for a welfare check. “I know you’re hurting today as well,” she said. “You were being that wonderful neighbor, the one that we would all want next door to us.”
Jefferson was a graduate of Xavier University who worked in pharmaceutical equipment sales. She had recently moved into the house in Fort Worth’s Hillside Morningside neighborhood to help care for her mother, who was in poor health, the family said.
“She was a smart, ambitious, kind person with a nurturing spirit,” her sister said. “Any parent would be proud to call her daughter.”
It is not clear whether the officer who shot Jefferson will face criminal charges. Police said they will turn over body-camera footage and other relevant evidence to the Tarrant County district attorney’s office, which will decide whether to prosecute.
Jefferson is one of at least 709 people in the country who have been killed by police officers in 2019, according to a Post database that tracks such shootings. Of those, fewer than three dozen were women, five of whom were black.
SOURCE: The Washington Post – Derek Hawkins and Deanna Paul