The Fort Worth, Texas police officer who shot and killed a woman in her own home over the weekend has been charged with murder, according to prosecutors. 34-year old Aaron Dean has already been released from jail on bond, after spending about four hours behind bars Monday night.
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 resigned from the force Monday afternoon, just a few hours before the murder charges were formally filed. Fort Worth chief of police Ed Kraus said he planned on firing Dean, but the officer resigned before that could happen.
The bodycam footage released by the Fort Worth Police shows that Dean never identified himself as an officer before firing the shots that killed Atatiana Jefferson. Her family says that Jefferson was concerned about a noise outside her home and had gone to check on the sound when she was shot.
“She was enjoying a life in her home, where no one would have expected her life to be in harm’s way, especially not at the hands of a civil servant who has taken an oath to serve and protect,” Jefferson’s sister Ashley Carr said.
Family attorney Lee Merritt said that Jefferson had been playing video games with her eight-year-old nephew, and approached the window to investigate a noise outside when Dean fired.
Police had been called to the home for a welfare check after a neighbor reported that the front door of Jefferson’s home was open at 2:30 in the morning, but according to reports, none of the officers actually made contact with Atatiana Jefferson before the shots were fired. According to the chief, Dean isn’t cooperating with the investigation.
“He resigned before his opportunity to be cooperative,” Kraus said.
The chief said the department normally investigates officer-involved shootings with two separate but concurrent processes: an internal affairs investigation and a criminal investigation, with the criminal investigation taking precedence.
Fort Worth police spokesman Sgt. Chris Daniels said at a brief news conference Monday night that the department took Dean into custody about 6 p.m. He said the department is still “working diligently to complete the criminal and administrative investigations” and is in close contact with the Tarrant County district attorney’s office.
Police did not take any questions at the news conference. The chief is expected to provide an update Tuesday.
What a terrible situation, and the Fort Worth Police Department did itself no favors by including a photo of a gun that was located in the home when it released the bodycam footage. Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price on Monday called the photo irrelevant to the investigation.
Kraus said the gun was located just inside the window but declined to comment on whether Jefferson was holding it or not. On Monday, the mayor and police chief expressed regret for highlighting the detail. In her opening address, Price said the gun was “irrelevant” and that Jefferson was “a victim”.
“That is something we’ve done in the past to include the photograph of the firearm to show what the perceived threat may have been,” Kraus said. “In hindsight it was a bad thing to do.”
The mayor also spoke to the neighbor who originally called police to ask for a wellness check.
“To Mr. James Smith, I know you are hurting today as well. You called police to check on your neighbor because you cared about her safety and well-being,” Price said. “You were being a wonderful neighbor and doing the right thing to make sure she was OK. You are the type of person we all want living next door, watching out for us. Atatiana’s death has eroded your own your sense of safety and trust in law enforcement. I’m truly sorry.”
Chief Kraus said during the same press conference on Monday that despite James Smith requesting a welfare check, when officers arrived they treated the call as an “open structure” call, which changed the officers’ protocol. Under a welfare check, officers would have knocked on the front door and announced themselves. When responding to an “open structure” call, however, officers are supposed to “approach with caution” and to park away from the structure they’re investigating. It’s unclear as to why the decision was made to treat this call as something other than a welfare check, but the chief is expected to give another update later today.
This entire story is a terrible tragedy, and my heart goes out to the Jefferson family. The police are there to protect and serve, but the mistakes made over the weekend cost an innocent woman her life and left a grieving family behind. The Fort Worth Police Department and prosecutors have been fairly proactive since the shooting occurred, which is good, but they’re going to have to work hard to rebuild trust within the community. We’ll have more on this story this afternoon, including any updates by the chief.