Fort Worth, TX – Hundreds of protesters gathered at Fort Worth City Hall on Tuesday night to denounce the city’s police force in the wake of the officer-involved shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson.
Inside city hall chambers, protesters repeatedly interrupted proceedings with chants of “we don’t feel safe,” while an estimated 200 more anti-police activists rallied outside the building, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
“How can we feel safe if we die in our homes?” resident Jamaal Johnson asked the council, adding that citizens no longer have pride in their community.
Many demanded that city leaders address alleged patterns of aggressive policing and racial bias they said have been exhibited by the Fort Worth Police Department (FWPD), the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
Others called for the firing of Assistant City Manager Jay Chapa and City Manager David Cooke.
One woman was removed from the meeting after she jumped up and demanded that city leaders “let these people speak,” referring to nearly 60 residents who signed up to address the council that night, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
“We know you knew this meeting would be large because of the number of officers that are here,” Estella Williams told the council. “You surround us with the very people we are here to complain about. We don’t feel safe.”
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price repeatedly tried to gain control of the chaotic scene, warning those in attendance that she would not tolerate outbursts.
Earlier in the day, protesters marched to city hall from the old Tarrant County Courthouse carrying signs that read “There is blood on FWPD’s hands” and “Stop Killing Our Children,” according to the paper.
“It’s time for the community and businesses to take us seriously,” United My Justice President Donnell Ballard said at the start of the march. “If we have to, we will interrupt events — Veterans Day parades, Christmas parades.”
During a press conference on Monday, Price declared that the relationship between FWPD and the community will not be repaired until Jefferson’s family has “justice.”
A “third-party panel of experts” has also been summoned to “review this department,” Price said.
On Tuesday night, Price said that she expects Cooke to have the third-party panel convened by the middle of November, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
In the wake of Jefferson’s death, former Fort Worth Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald released a statement criticizing the city that fired him back in May and demanding to be given his job back, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Fitzgerald also accused city leaders of being under the control of the police union.
“Having institutional control over the law enforcement agency is a must, especially when dealing with newer generations of officers who erroneously default to equipment over communications skills,” he said in the statement, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Price refused to speak about the former police chief’s demands, and called his move “an unnecessary distraction.”
Cooke accused Fitzgerald of using Jefferson’s death as a way to further his own personal agenda.
“We are saddened by the death of Atatiana Jefferson and do not think her death should be used as a platform for his meritless lawsuit,” Cooke told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
In the wake of the officer-involved shooting, city leaders refused to discuss whether or not Jefferson was holding a handgun when she was fatally shot by now-former Fort Worth Police Officer Aaron Dean.
According to court documents released on Tuesday, Jefferson’s eight-year-old nephew told investigators about what he witnessed the night she was killed, KXAS reported.
The boy and his aunt were playing video games inside their home when they suddenly “heard noises coming from outside,” he told police, according to an arrest warrant.
Jefferson then retrieved a handgun from her purse and “pointed it toward the window,” at which point she “was shot and fell to the ground,” KXAS reported.
Fort Worth Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus said that the officer’s use of deadly force was inexcusable, regardless as to where the gun was at the time of the encounter.
"The gun was found just inside the room, but it makes sense that she would have a gun if she felt that she was being threatened or that there was someone in the back yard,” Chief Kraus reiterated, according to KXAS.
"Human life is a precious thing and should not have been taken from Ms. Jefferson," he told reporters on Tuesday morning. "[To the public] I ask you please do not let the actions of one officer reflect on the other 1,700. There's absolutely no excuse for this incident and the person responsible will be held accountable."
Chief Kraus said that every FWPD officer he has spoken to since the officer-involved shooting said they agreed that now-former Officer Dean deserved to be arrested for murder.
"I don't have any officer saying this action should not have been taken against this individual, this officer,” Chief Kraus told reporters, according to KXAS. “I'm getting the complete opposite response. ‘Chief thank you for being quick and decisive. This is going to help heal us.’”
The incident began at approximately 2:25 a.m. on Saturday, when Fort Worth police received a call from Jefferson’s neighbor, James Smith, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
Smith told the non-emergency dispatcher that he noticed that his neighbor’s doors were open and their lights were still on, which was unusual for that time of night.
He said that Jefferson lived at the East Allen Avenue home with her eight-year-old nephew.
Bodycam footage showed the officers as they checked on two open doors. They then made their way down a driveway to the back portion of the residence.
Dean opened a gate and came upon a darkened window to his right, the video showed.
“Put your hands up!” he suddenly ordered, with his duty weapon and flashlight pointed at the window. “Show me your hands!”
He then fired a single round, fatally wounding Jefferson, who died at the scene, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
“Perceiving a threat, the officer drew his duty weapon and fired one shot striking the person inside the residence,” the FWPD in a news release. “Officers entered the residence locating the individual and a firearm and began providing emergency medical care.”
Jefferson’s family said that she was inside playing video games with her nephew when they heard someone outside, according to their attorney, Lee Merritt.
The officer did not announce himself as law enforcement, bodycam footage showed.
When Jefferson peeked out the window to see who might be out there, she was shot, Merritt said, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
It's also unclear if she would have had any way to know that it was a police officer who was confronting her.
According to Merritt, Jefferson was a “pre-med graduate of Xavier University” who was working in pharmaceutical equipment sales, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
“Before law enforcement goes about their pattern of villainizing this beautiful peaceful woman, turning her into a suspect, a silhouette, or threat, let me tell you about [her,]” he said. “She was very close to her family. She was the auntie that stayed up on Friday night playing video games with her [eight-year-old] nephew.”
Jefferson recently moved home to take care of her ill mother, he noted.
“There was no reason for her to be murdered. None,” Merritt said. “We must have justice.”
During a press conference on Monday afternoon, Price blasted the FWPD for releasing images of the gun located in Jefferson’s home.
“The gun is irrelevant,” Price said. “She was in her own home… Atatiana was a victim.”
Chief Kraus said he hasn’t been able to “make sense” of the officer’s decision to discharge his duty weapon.
He said he shared the community’s concerns about the incident, and that he has demanded a thorough and speedy investigation into the matter.
“Nobody looked at that video and said that there’s any doubt that this officer acted inappropriately,” the chief told reporters. “I get it. We’re trying to train our officers better. We’re trying to shore up our policies, and we’re trying to ensure that they act and react the way that the citizens intend them to… with a servant’s heart instead of a warrior’s heart.”
Chief Kraus said that, “in hindsight,” releasing photographs of the firearm in Jefferson’s home “was a bad thing to do,” and that such images are generally released in order to show any “perceived threat” officers encountered.
“I think it was to show that there was a weapon involved, however, we’re homeowners in the State of Texas,” he added. “I can’t imagine most of us – if we thought we had somebody outside our house that shouldn’t be [and] we had access to that firearm – that we wouldn’t act very similarly to how she acted.”
Dean, who was hired by the FWPD in August of 2017, was placed on administrative leave on Sunday.
The 34-year-old officer resigned from the force on Monday.
“My intent was to meet with him today to terminate his employment with the Fort Worth Police Department, however, the officer tendered his resignation this morning before we met,” Chief Kraus said. “Even though he no longer works for the city, we continue the administrative investigation as if he did.”
Had he not resigned, Chief Kraus said he would have fired the officer “for violations of several policies,” to include the FWPD’s use-of-force, de-escalation, and unprofessional conduct policies.
Dean was arrested for murder at approximately 6 p.m. on the day he resigned, The Dallas Morning News reported.
He was taken to the Tarrant County Jail on $200,000 bond and was released after posting bail approximately three hours later, according to CNN.
"We value the trust that we've had in our community, we will continue to build that trust," Fort Worth Police Sergeant Chris Daniels told reporters during a press conference following Dean’s arrest. "To the citizens and residents of our city, we feel and understand your anger and disappointment."
Jefferson’s family’s attorney tweeted about the former officer’s arrest on Monday night.
“The family of Atatiana Jefferson is relieved that Aaron Dean has been arrested & charged with murder,” Merritt wrote. “We need to see this through to a vigorous prosecution & appropriate sentencing. The City of Fort Worth has much work to do to reform a brutal culture of policing.”
Merritt said the former officer’s arrest was a “good start,” but that more needs to be done, The New York Times reported.
“It’s more than we are used to seeing,” the attorney noted. “Fort Worth has a culture that has allowed this to happen. There still needs to be a reckoning.”
Dean’s attorney, Jim Lane, called the officer-involved shooting a “tragedy,” KXAS reported.
Lane said that Dean has expressed remorse for what happened, and that his family “is in shock,” according to the news outlet.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is also reviewing the case for potential civil rights violations.
Jefferson’s family said that the entire FWPD needs to be held accountable for her death – not just the officer who pulled the trigger, The Dallas Morning News reported.
“This rookie cop is not going to be the scapegoat for what happened,” Jefferson’s brother, Adarius Carr, told reporters on Tuesday. “Yes, he’s going to take his punishment, but the system failed him… Whoever sent him out failed him. The training failed him. There’s a lot that has to get fixed. The city failed him.”