A white police officer who shot and killed a 28-year-old black woman in her Texas home as she played video games with her nephew resigned Monday amid calls from the woman’s family for him to be fired and criminally charged. The Fort Worth Police Department said officers responded at about 2:25 a.m. Saturday after a neighbor called a non-emergency line to report the home’s front door had been left open. The responding officer fired a shot through a window, killing Atatiana Jefferson.
Fort Worth police said in a statement that officers saw someone near a window inside the home and that one of them drew his duty weapon and fired after “perceiving a threat.” The video released by police shows two officers searching the home from the outside with flashlights before one shouts, “Put your hands up, show me your hands.” One shot is then fired through a window.
In the video, the officer does not identify himself as police.
Speaking at a news conference Monday, Fort Worth police chief Edwin Kraus said he intended to fire the officer Monday for violations of the department’s use of force and de-escalation policies. Instead, he said the officer, who he identified as Aaron Dean, gave his resignation. Kraus said dual investigations were underway to determine policy violations and possible criminal charges.
He also said the case has been presented to the FBI to determine whether a federal investigation over possible civil rights violations is warranted. Kraus apologized for the woman’s death and said he has not been able to make sense of why Jefferson had to lose her life.
“On behalf of the men and women of the Fort Worth Police Department, I’m so sorry for what occurred,” Kraus said.
Dean was hired by the department in 2017 and had been an officer since 2018, Kraus said. He had been involved in a traffic accident, but had no other previous disciplinary incidents on his record. Responding to a reporter’s question about how the incident affects trust between the police department and the community, Kraus said “I get it,” and said reform efforts are underway.
“Nobody looked at that video and said there’s any doubt this officer acted inappropriately,” Kraus said. “I get it. We’re trying to train our officers better, we’re trying to shore up our policies, trying to ensure they act and react the way the citizens intend them to — that they act and react with a servant’s heart, instead of a warrior’s heart.”
An independent police monitor and a third-party panel of experts are being brought in to review the police department — an effort that was underway before Jefferson’s death, according to the city manager.
Jefferson’s family spoke at an earlier news conference, demanding justice for the slain woman.
“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 at the news conference in Dallas.
“We are not looking for a slap on the wrist,” said community activist Cory Hughes, “…We are demanding that he be charged like the criminal he is.”
Jefferson’s sister Ashley Carr said Jefferson was killed by a “reckless act” and there was no justification for the officer’s actions. She called for an outside agency to investigate the death.
“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,” Carr said.
Jefferson had moved into her mother’s home because her mother had been in failing health and was recently hospitalized, the family said. She often helped care for her young nephews, including 8-year-old Zion. Merritt said Jefferson stayed up late playing video games with the boy and had “lost track of time” when they heard noise outside her bedroom window.
Police said the officers didn’t park their marked vehicles in front of the home, instead parking nearby and walking to the home. Merritt said the officers passed two open doors and never announced themselves, instead “prowling and whispering” outside.
According to Merritt, the child said his aunt wouldn’t let him go to the window to investigate, instead going herself. That’s when he saw her fall to the ground.
“I ask myself what would have happened had that little boy went to the window instead of his auntie,” Merritt said.
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 outside.
Fort Worth is about 30 miles west of Dallas, where another high-profile police shooting occurred last year. In that case, white Dallas police officer Amber Guyger fatally shot her black neighbor Botham Jean inside his own apartment after Guyger said she mistook it for her own. Guyger, 31, was sentenced this month to 10 years in prison.
According to a demographics report released by the Fort Worth Police Department, nearly two-thirds of its 1,100 officers were white, as of June 30. Just over 20% were Hispanic or Latino and about 10% were black.
The Fort Worth Police Officers Association issued a statement Sunday calling for “a thorough and transparent investigation” into the shooting.
Fort Worth police said it released the bodycam footage soon after the shooting for transparency, but that any “camera footage inside the residence” could not be distributed due to state law.
The bodycam video included blurred still frames showing a gun inside the home. It’s unclear if the firearm was found near Jefferson and police have not said that the officer who shot her thought she was holding a gun. Merritt blasted the police department for releasing the image, which he said was legally owned by Jefferson, who had a concealed carry permit.
He said the firearm is unrelated to Jefferson’s death and accused the department of attempting to blame the victim by circulating the image.
Speaking Monday, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price called the firearm “irrelevant.”
“A gun is irrelevant. Atatiana was in her own home, caring for her 8-year-old nephew,” Price said. “She was a victim. And she was taken from her family in circumstances that are truly unthinkable.”
Price also apologized to Jefferson’s family and called for the community to support them.
Kraus said he now regrets releasing the image of the firearm. He said the department released the photo to show there was a weapon “involved.”
“However, we’re homeowners in the state of Texas. I can’t imagine most of us, if we thought we had somebody outside our house who shouldn’t be, and we had access to a firearm — that we wouldn’t act very similarly to how she acted.”
Kraus could not say whether the woman was holding the gun. He said it was located just inside the window.
A large crowd gathered outside Jefferson’s home Sunday night for a vigil after earlier demonstrations briefly stopped traffic on part of Interstate 35.
Jefferson was a 2014 graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, the university said. Merritt told the Star-Telegram that Jefferson was working in pharmaceutical equipment sales and was considering going back to medical school.
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