Police officer in Fort Worth shooting charged with murder

By: Andrew Stafford
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Aaron Dean, the police officer who fatally shot 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson inside her home, was charged with murder on Monday, October 14. Dean, who has since resigned from the Fort Worth Police Department where he worked, responded to a non-emergency call from a concerned neighbor when the incident took place. 

The death of Jefferson, a black woman, at the hands of a white police officer becomes the latest in a series of high profile incidents. Some say the incidents are part of a growing pattern of police brutality and violence against black communities across the United States. 

Details of the incident

Dean and another officer arrived at Jefferson’s home at approximately 2:25 on October 12, where she was playing video games with her eight-year-old nephew. They responded after a concerned neighbor noticed that the front door had been open for several hours and called the non-emergency line to request that the police carry out a welfare check.

Edited body camera footage released by the police department shows that the two officers who responded to the call walked around the perimeter of Jefferson’s property. After circumventing the property, Dean detected the figure of Jefferson inside the house. He instructed her to raise her hands and then fired a single shot through the window. Despite attempted resuscitation efforts by officers on the scene, the gunshot wound proved to be fatal. 

The footage does not appear to show Dean or his colleague identifying themselves as police officers to Jefferson at any point. The officers also parked their vehicle around the corner of the property, making it imperceivable from Jefferson’s house.


Public reaction

Family members, neighbors, civil rights activists, and other community members have gathered at the property to pay their respects and protest against Dean’s actions as well as the extended systemic conditions in law enforcement that make such deadly occurrences liable. 

“There is simply no justification for his actions. She was enjoying her life in her home, where no one would have expected her life to be in harm’s way, especially not in the hands of a civil servant who had taken the oath to serve and protect,” says Ashley Carr, Jefferson’s oldest sister.

Lee Merritt, the family attorney, has said in a statement that “the family of Atatiana Jefferson is relieved that Aaron Dean has been arrested & charged with murder. 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.”

Alongside the death of Jefferson, the shooting is a further encumbrance to already floundering levels of trust between the police and the communities they serve.

Jefferson’s neighbor who called the police, James Smith, 62, told reporters that he regrets his decision to call the local police department. “If I had never dialed the police department, she’d still be alive,’ said Smith. “I’m shaken. I’m mad. I’m upset. And I feel it’s partly my fault. It makes you not want to call the police department,” he added.


Police reaction

Speaking at a press conference, the police chief of Fort Worth Police Department, Ed Kraus, emphasized that the killing of Atatiana Jefferson was inexcusable. According to Kraus, the department does not oppose the murder charges brought against Dean.

“I don’t have any officers saying this action should not have been taken against this individual, this officer. I’m getting the complete opposite response,” Kraus said.

“The officers are hurting,” he continues, “they try hard every day to try to make this city better … I likened it to a bunch of ants building an anthill, and then somebody comes with a hose and washes it away. And they just have to start from scratch.”

Dean resigned from the Forth Worth Police Department before he received the murder charges. Kraus stated that if Dean did not tender his resignation, the department would have dismissed him.

Despite the condemnation of Dean and the murder charges filed against him, it is unclear whether the charges will result in a conviction. Mapping Police Violence is a research collaborative that uses comprehensive data on nationwide police killings to quantify the impact of police violence in communities. According to their data, police kill over 1 000 people per year.

However, the conviction rate for police officers involved in fatal shootings is low, and it is rare for an officer to face trial. A conviction is rarer still. Of the 80 officers that were arrested on murder charges between 2005 and 2017, only 35% resulted in a conviction.

Ex-officer awaits trail

Following his resignation, Fort Worth Police arrested Dean and held him at the Tarrant County jail. The jail has since released him on bail, which is set at $200 000. According to the Police Department, Dean is yet to provide a written statement and is refusing to answer questions.

Prior to the incident, Dean worked for the department for 18 months and had a clean record aside from a traffic violation. Dean was initially placed on administrative leave before the murder charges were brought against him.

Recent police shootings in Texas

The shooting of Jefferson does not appear to be an isolated incident. In the three months since June, officers from Fort Worth Police Department have shot and killed six people. The incident follows the conclusion of the high profile trial of Amber Guyger, another officer in the state of Texas who shot and killed a black person in their home. Guyger will serve ten years for the murder of Botham Jean. 

Sparking fear and anger, these incidents contribute to statistics that show that black people are more likely to be killed by police. Despite making up 13% of the population, data shows that black people account for 25% of those killed by police. As a result, black Americans are less likely to feel safe during interactions with the police.