Crime

Police shooting of Atatiana Jefferson: What we know, what we don’t know

Questions continue to intensify and linger following the death of 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson at the hands of a Fort Worth police officer.

Jefferson was playing Call of Duty with her 8-year-old nephew in their home, according to an attorney hired to represent her family, when she heard a noise outside and looked out of her window at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday. She was shot by an officer who had quietly approached the house through the backyard.

He was identified on Monday afternoon as Aaron Dean. He resigned from the Fort Worth Police Department on Monday morning. On Monday evening, Dean was arrested on a charge of murder, booked into jail and released on bail.

The shooting has left the community begging for answers. This is what we know and don’t know based on information released by lawyers, police and city officials.

This story will be updated as new information becomes available.

Who is the officer who shot Jefferson?

There’s not much information known about former officer Aaron Dean.

Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus released the officer’s name on Monday afternoon. He said Dean resigned from his position in the police department on Monday morning, ahead of Kraus’ meeting to fire him.

If Kraus had the opportunity to fire Dean, he said it would have been for multiple violations, including violating the department’s use-of-force procedures, unprofessional conduct and violating the de-escalation policy.

Dean was arrested at his attorney’s office at 6 p.m. on Monday on a charge of murder. He was given a $200,000 bond, which was posted about three hours later.

Dean was a commissioned as a licensed officer in April 2018 after completing the Fort Worth Police Academy on March 8, 2018, according to a report from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.

He attended the University of Texas at Arlington where he completed 143 credit hours.

In the academy, Dean completed 40 hours of crisis intervention training, two hours of defensive tactics training, three hours of conflict resolution, eight hours of cultural diversity and tactical trauma care, two hours of cultural awareness training, and 160 officers of field officer training, according to the TCLE report.

The report says Dean received 2,860 training hours from education and 1,451 total course hours.

Because Dean is no longer with the department, he does not have the protection of state civil service laws behind him. However, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas said that Dean has not obtained an attorney and one will be provided to him with financial support from CLEAT.

Kraus also said that Dean has not cooperated with investigators and has not allowed Kraus to question him. He has not given a statement to investigators and has declined to provide a written statement.

Jim Lane, Dean’s attorney, said Tuesday that neither he nor his client had any comment regarding the arrest or the case.

What happens next?

Kraus said the other officer who was with Dean at the time of the shooting is being treated as a witness.

Internal and criminal investigations are continuing.

City Manager David Cooke said he and the mayor plan to hire a group of national experts to investigate the policies and procedures of the police department.

Though Dean has been charged, the case will still be presented to a grand jury. Jack Strickland, a former Tarrant County prosecutor, said that process could take some time as the district attorney’s office will have to continue to investigate after police hand their investigation over.

“I can’t make any representations of the current grand jury or the current DA’s office, but it was my opinion when I presented those cases that it was my job to bring them as much information both on behalf of the victim and on behalf of the officer,” Strickland said. “It’s almost like a mini-trial. The grand jury’s job is to determine if there’s probable cause.”

Strickland said probable cause isn’t a high standard. It’s what’s needed before officers can arrest someone.

“It seems particularly important that you get the grand jury as much information as you can,” he said. “You want to get experts, witnesses, family members, the officer’s history, whether or not they have a disciplinary history, the nature of their experience while a police officer.”

What does the arrest warrant for Dean say?

The warrant gives many details the public has already known. The officer who wrote it, identified as A. Rimshas, said the warrant is written off of information obtained from Dean’s body camera.

Kraus has said that Dean has not cooperated with the investigation and has not been questions.

According to the warrant, Dean and another officer were sent to Jefferson’s address on an open structure call and that neither officer announced themselves when they arrived. Dean looked through the two open doors (the screen doors were shut) and didn’t see anyone inside and then went to the backyard.

After the shooting, the officers went inside to provide medical aid and MedStar was called.

Jefferson’s 8-year-old nephew, who was inside the bedroom when his aunt was killed, was given a forensic interview at Alliance for Children. He said they were playing video games when they heard a noise in the backyard. Jefferson grabbed her gun from her purse and pointed it toward the window.

Kraus has said that Jefferson was within her right to use her weapon, and “it made sense that she felt threatened or thought someone was in the backyard.”

The warrant says the officer who was with Dean at the time of the shooting was interviewed on Saturday.

Why were officers at the house?

James Smith, who called the police department’s non-emergency line, was worried when he noticed the front doors to Jefferson’s home had been open for hours.

When officers were sent to the house, they were given the following information: “(calling party) advised front doors to (address) is open … both of neighbor’s (vehicles) are in driveway: white sedan and (dark) colored sedan. Neighbors are usually home but never has door open,” according to a police log.

Kraus said the call was labeled as a “open structure” call and it was appropriate for officers to park away from the home.

It’s important to know what information the officers were given because officers who are going to a burglary call should react much differently than if they’re checking on someone’s welfare, according to policing and law expert Michael Benza, a senior instructor from the Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland.

Police released on Sunday the 311 call Smith made. He told the operator “I’m calling about my neighbor” and then told her “the front doors have been open since about 10 o’clock, I haven’t seen anybody moving around. It’s not normal for them to have both of the doors open.”

He told the operator that he doesn’t know if anyone is inside the house, but that both cars are in the driveway.

Asked if the residents are usually home at that time, Smith said: “They’re usually home but they’ve never had both of their doors open and lights on. I can see straight through the house.”

According to dispatch audio released by the department on Monday, officers were told, “complainant advised the front door to this address is open, both neighbor’s vehicles are in the driveway, white sedan and dark colored sedan.”

About seven minutes later a female officer gets on the radio and says “shots fired.” A male officers, presumably Dean, then got on the radio and said “shots fired, shots fired start a supervisor.” The female officer then clarifies that officer #325 (Dean) fired his weapon.

The doors were open because of a cool breeze

Jefferson and her nephew stayed up late and opened their doors, with the screen doors closed, to enjoy the night’s breeze, attorney Lee Merritt said.

While playing Call of Duty, Jefferson and her nephew both lost track of time.

It was around 2:30 a.m. when they heard a noise coming from the backyard.

Jefferson went to the window to see who was there and was shot by a Fort Worth police officer who was standing outside, Lee Merritt said.

Her nephew was in the room when Jefferson was shot.

Officers didn’t identify themselves

Body-worn camera video shows two officers using flashlights to check the perimeter of the house, inspecting two doors that are open with closed screen doors. The lights inside the home were on but no one was visible inside. The officers didn’t say anything or knock on either of the doors. They quietly walked around the house, even shone a light in at least one of the cars parked in the driveway before they opened the wooden fence gate leading to what appears to be the backyard.

At the back of house, Dean appeared to see a figure through a dark window, and he quickly twisted his body to the left.

“Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” he shouted through the window, his gun drawn. Dean then fired a single shot through the window as he said “hands,” giving no time for a response.

In the video, the officer, who is shining a light through the window, does not identify himself as police.

A timeline of what happened

Police on Sunday released a call log that details the timing of events.

According to a call log, officers were dispatched at 2:25 a.m.

They arrived at 2:29 a.m.

A “person down” call was made to MedStar at 2:36 a.m.

When MedStar arrived, officers were giving Jefferson CPR.

Why did police release images of a gun?

Along with a written statement on Saturday, police also released parts of the body camera footage worn by the responding officers. The department also released images of a gun they say was found inside the house.

However, police have not said where exactly the gun was found or if the officer was threatened with it.

On Monday, Kraus acknowledged that it was a mistake to release images of the gun and said “in hindsight, it was a bad thing to do.”

He said the gun was found in the bedroom “however, we’re homeowners in the state of Texas” and as such, Jefferson was well within her rights to have and hold a firearm in her home.

On Tuesday, he said, “the gun was found inside the room ... it made sense that she felt threatened or thought someone was in the backyard.”

Officers association urges transparent investigation

The Fort Worth Police Officers Association urged Fort Worth police to conduct a “thorough” and “transparent” investigation into the fatal shooting.

In a statement, the Fort Worth Police Officers Association said the following:

“The Fort Worth Police Officers Association is deeply saddened by the officer involved shooting that occurred on Allen Ave.

“Any loss of life is tragic, but the reported circumstances surrounding this incident are heartbreaking. We join with the citizens of Fort Worth in mourning the death of one of our young community members. We are urging the Fort Worth police department to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation, and through that investigation we hope to gain clarity and understanding of what exactly transpired.

“Police officers take an oath to protect and serve all citizens in our great city and it is every officers’ worst fear to use deadly force in the line of duty. We are thankful for our community leaders who seek to unite during times of grief instead of divide and we hope that collaboration and peace will help guide us forward.

The members of the FWPOA love the citizens that we serve, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Atatiana Jefferson; our hearts are heavy.”

City is interviewing outside investigators

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price was at a prayer vigil held on Sunday evening for Jefferson.

She didn’t speak but said she was there to listen.

However, she did tell reporters that the city would be hiring an outside agency to investigate the department.

“We will be hiring a third party person to look at this, an outside person,” she said, adding that they were looking at three agencies and she doesn’t know which one it’ll be yet.

A city spokeswoman later clarified that the city is looking to hire an agency that would conduct a broad investigation into the police department’s practices as they relate to use of force, de-escalation and their general interactions with the community.

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Nichole Manna is an investigative reporter for the Star-Telegram. Before moving to Fort Worth in July 2018, she covered crime and breaking news in Tennessee, North Carolina, Nebraska and Kansas. She is a 2012 graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and grew up in Florida.
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