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Police chief apologizes for Atatiana Jefferson’s death, while family says officer’s arrest is just a start

Posted at 3:13 PM, Oct 15, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-15 15:13:16-04

Fort Worth’s police chief is apologizing for the shooting death of a black woman in her home by a white police officer, as her family’s attorney says the officer’s arrest is just one step on a long road toward justice.

Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus said Tuesday that he was deeply sorry for Atatiana Jefferson‘s shooting death three days earlier at the hands of Officer Aaron Dean, who resigned from the force and was arrested on a murder charge.

“Human life is a precious thing and should not have been taken from Ms. Jefferson,” Kraus told reporters. “This incident has eroded the trust that we have built with our community and we must now work even harder to ensure that trust is restored.”

Fort Worth police responded to a call to check on Jefferson’s home early Saturday. Dean walked around the home and — without identifying himself as an officer — shot Jefferson through a window after perceiving a threat, police have said.

Jefferson was in her home playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew when police arrived to conduct a wellness check, a family attorney has said.

Aaron Dean and Atatiana Jefferson

Woman had a gun, affidavit says — and chief says it makes sense that she would

Dean’s arrest warrant, released to the news media Tuesday, reveals new details about Saturday morning’s encounter: The nephew told investigators that his aunt had retrieved her handgun from her purse after hearing noises coming from outside.

“Jefferson raised her handgun, pointed it toward the window, then Jefferson was shot and fell to the ground,” the arrest warrant says, citing the child.

Police said officers found a firearm when they entered the room. They have previously declined to say whether Jefferson was holding the gun when Dean fired his weapon.

Kraus told reporters Tuesday that it would make sense that Jefferson had taken out a gun.

“It makes sense that she would have a gun if she felt that she was being threatened, or if there was someone in the back yard,” Kraus said.

Dean was arrested Monday evening by Fort Worth officers at his attorney’s office, Kraus said.

He posted bail about three hours later, after briefly being held in the Tarrant County Jail with bond set at $200,000.

If Dean had not resigned Monday, he would have been fired for several policy violations, including the department’s use of force and de-escalation policies, and unprofessional conduct, Kraus said.

Family’s attorney: This ‘should not end with the prosecution of one officer’

Also Tuesday, the attorney for Jefferson’s siblings said he was encouraged that Dean had been arrested, but the family is demanding that more people be held accountable.

“This officer was sent by someone. He didn’t come out on his own volition. He wasn’t working a beat. Someone in the higher command sent this officer,” civil rights attorney Lee Merritt said at a news conference with Jefferson’s brother and two sisters.

“It should not end with the prosecution of one officer, and it certainly shouldn’t end with an arrest and an incomplete prosecution,” he said.

Merritt previously has called for an investigation by an agency independent of the Fort Worth Police Department.

“The city of Fort Worth is unique in allowing its own department to investigate its own officers,” Merritt told CNN Monday. He said an independent investigation is “the appropriate thing to happen, whether or not Fort Worth will do that will depend on how invested this community remains in calling for justice.”

The Fort Worth Police Department has presented a preliminary case to the FBI to review Dean’s actions for possible civil rights violations, Kraus saud.

Saturday’s shooting is the ninth by Fort Worth police in 2019, police said. Seven of those were fatal.

How the night unfolded

At 2:23 a.m. Saturday, Jefferson’s neighbor, James Smith, called the non-emergency police number for a wellness check for Jefferson when he saw that her doors had been open for a while in the early hours of the morning, he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. He knew she was with her young nephew and he was worried about them, he said.

Officers arrived and parked near the residence at 2:28 a.m., police spokesman Lt. Brandon O’Neil said Sunday at a news conference. Merritt said Jefferson and her nephew were playing video games inside the house when officers arrived.

Police released heavily edited body camera footage of the incident, which showed that lights were on in the home but no one inside was visible as officers approached.

As they walked in the dark outside the house, one officer approached a window quickly with a flashlight and his weapon drawn. The footage shows the officer yelling, “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” before firing through the window.

Police said that the officer drew his weapon and fired one shot after “perceiving a threat.”

The officers entered and rendered medical aid to Jefferson, but she died at the scene, police said in a statement.

A caretaker

Jefferson had recently moved into her ailing mother’s home to take care of her. Her mother was in a hospital the night Jefferson was shot, Merritt said.

“Her mom had recently gotten very sick, so she was home taking care of the house and loving her life. There was no reason for her to be murdered,” Merritt said on a GoFundMe page benefiting Jefferson’s family.

Merritt said Jefferson graduated from Xavier University of Louisiana in 2014 with a degree in biology and worked in pharmaceutical equipment sales.

“It’s another one of those situations where the people that are supposed to protect us are actually not here to protect us,” one of Jefferson’s sisters, Amber Carr, told KTVT. “You know, you want to see justice, but justice don’t bring my sister back.”