Fort Worth, TX – A Fort Worth police officer has resigned from the force after he fatally shot a woman in her residence as he was investigating a report of an unsecured home early Saturday morning.
The incident began at approximately 2:25 a.m., when Fort Worth police received a call from 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 his neighbor, 28-year-old Atatiana 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.
One of the officers 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 Fort Worth Police Department (FWPD) said 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.
The FWPD also released photographs of a handgun they located inside Jefferson’s home, but it was unclear whether or not she was holding or reaching for the gun when she encountered the officer.
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 “premed 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.”
"Why this man is not in handcuffs is a source of continued agitation for this family and for this community," he declared on Monday, according to CBS News.
Smith said he was shaken and angry that his well-intentioned call to police ended in tragedy.
“I feel it’s partly my fault,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “If I had never dialed the police department, she’d still be alive…I wanted to make sure they were safe. That’s all I wanted to do.”
“It makes you not want to call the police department,” Smith continued. “If you don’t feel safe with the police department, then who do you feel safe with? Do you just ignore crime or ignore something that’s not right?
Protesters and religious leaders immediately began calling for the officer to be fired and charged with murder.
“Ain’t no ‘perceived threat’ — unless it’s black folk,” Pastor Michael Bell said, according to the paper. “Just our presence — we’re the threat.”
During a press conference on Monday afternoon, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price blasted 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.”
“We are all heartbroken today. Atatiana was a beautiful, smart, amazing young woman, by all accounts, who was unjustly taken from her family,” Price told reporters. “The entire city is in pain…I can’t imagine anything worse, and I’m so sorry. On behalf of the entire city of Fort Worth, I’m sorry…it’s unacceptable. There is nothing that can justify what happened.”
The mayor 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 summonsed to “review this department,” Price said.
Fort Worth Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus said he hasn’t been able to “make sense” of the officer’s decision to discharge his duty weapon.
“On behalf of the men and women of the Fort Worth Police Department, I’m so sorry for what occurred,” Chief Kraus told reporters during the press conference.
He said he shares 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.”
Investigators located the weapon “just inside the window,” but Chief Kraus said he did not know if Jefferson was holding it when she was shot.
The officer who shot Jefferson was placed on administrative leave on Sunday.
“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.
The now-former officer, identified by the chief as Aaron Dean, was hired by the FWPD in August of 2017.
Dean still faces potential criminal charges, and Chief Kraus said he expects to have a “substantial update” regarding the criminal investigation by Tuesday.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is also reviewing the case for potential civil rights violations.
You can watch bodycam footage of Officer Dean’s encounter with Jefferson in the video below: