Murder warrant for ex-officer says victim was holding gun, but that’s legal in Texas

The murder arrest warrant for a white officer who shot and killed a black woman on Saturday says that the victim was holding a gun after she heard noises outside her window.

But holding a gun inside your home is not illegal in Texas, and the former police officer who shot her was arrested on Monday.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said on Monday that the gun was irrelevant to the investigation. In Texas, homeowners have a right to be armed on their own property, Price said.

A witness, the woman’s 8-year-old nephew, told a forensic interviewer that after Atatiana Jefferson heard noises outside their home and thought there might be a prowler in the back yard, she reached into her purse, grabbed a handgun and pointed it toward the window, the warrant said.

That’s when Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean shot Jefferson through the window and she fell to the ground, according to the warrant charging Dean with murder.

Body camera video shows Dean shine his flashlight into a dark bedroom window. “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” he shouts through the window, his gun drawn. He then immediately fires a single shot through the window, killing Jefferson.

Officer C.A. Darch said that she and Dean were in the back yard standing near a window when Dean shot Jefferson. Darch said she could only see Jefferson’s face at that time, the warrant said.

According to the warrant, the officers never announced their presence.

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

Police chief: ‘Absolutely no excuse’ for officer’s actions

At a press conference Tuesday, Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus said it made sense that Jefferson had a gun if she felt threatened by an unknown person being in her yard.

He called Dean’s actions inexcusable.

“There’s absolutely no excuse for this incident and the person responsible will be held accountable,” Kraus said. “Ms. Jefferson’s family and our community will have the last word — the courts will speak on her behalf. Each and every one of you have our support and our commitment to serve you better.”

Lee Merritt, an attorney for the Jefferson family, questioned whether Dean saw a gun at all, noting that the window was covered by blinds, it was dark outside, and Dean never said “gun” before firing, as officers are trained to do. Dean’s own bodycam video showed that the view through the glass was obstructed by the reflection from his flashlight.

“Why do people keep weapons in their homes? Well, maybe, when there’s someone prowling around in the back at 2 a.m. in the morning, you may need to arm yourself,” Merritt told the Associated Press. “It is only appropriate that Miss Jefferson would have a weapon in that situation.”

Kraus said Dean has not cooperated with the investigation and has not answered questions from investigators.

The two officers, who were responding to a neighbor’s call about open doors at the home, saw the front and side interior doors were open, but the glass storm doors were closed, the warrant says. The family’s vehicles were in the driveway.

Jefferson, 28, and her nephew had been playing video games when they heard noises outside, the child told police. He was in the room with Jefferson when Dean shot her, according to the warrant.

Officers called for emergency medical help, who pronounced Jefferson dead when they arrived, according to the warrant. Officers administered first aid but were unsuccessful, the warrant said.

Patrol officers determined how to respond to the open door call they received from dispatch on Saturday, according to Kraus. If the officers perceived that the call was of a more criminal nature, such as a possible burglary, they would respond one way, Kraus said. However, if the officers approaching thought the open door at the home on Allen Avenue was simply an oversight, they would respond a different way.

Other Fort Worth officers support arrest

The arrest on Monday of one of their own was met by officers in Fort Worth with thanks, according to Kraus.

“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.

Kraus likened the day-to-day work police officers do to building an ant hill, and characterized the shooting of a woman inside her home during a welfare check as though someone had come and washed all that work away.

“You have to start all over,” Kraus said Tuesday.

“The officers are hurting,” he said. “They try hard every day to try to make this city better.”

Dean, 34, of Arlington, resigned from the Fort Worth Police Department on Monday morning.

Dean was arrested at about 6 p.m. Monday at his attorney’s office, police said. He was booked in the Tarrant County Jail and released on bail later Monday night, according to jail records.

Kraus left the stage after speaking about five minutes Tuesday morning, seemingly overcome with emotion during the press conference. He said he shares the community’s frustration and disappointment with the officer’s actions.

“I ask you please do not let the actions of one officer reflect on the other 1,700,” Kraus said.

“I realize that no action we take can replace the loss suffered here,” he said. “I’m deeply sorry for what occurred. I’ve received so many contacts from our officers who want to express how sorry they are as well and how this is not indicative of the work they do every day.”

A bullet hole from the police officer’s shot is seen in the rear window of Atatiana Jefferson’s home in Fort Worth, Texas, Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019. Jefferson, a black woman, was shot by a white police officer early Saturday, Oct. 12. Tony Gutierrez AP

Price met privately with Jefferson’s family Tuesday afternoon. A spokeswoman said the mayor would not comment on the meeting.

Price requested an independent review of Fort Worth police procedures and tactics. During a council work session Tuesday afternoon, she said she has asked City Manager David Cooke to put together a third-party panel to investigate policing practices by early November. The council will receive weekly updates from the panel.

This is separate from a police monitor position the city plans to fill by the end of the year.

Kraus said he had no issue with an independent review.

At a press conference Monday afternoon, Kraus identified Dean — who had served about 18 months with the department — as the officer who shot Jefferson. Kraus said he was going to fire Dean had he not resigned Monday morning.

The FBI has been briefed to investigate possible civil rights violations, he said.

Kraus said his intention was to fire the officer for violating policies, including the use-of-force policy.

Dean resigned in a one-sentence letter, according to the Associated Press. The letter said: “Effective immediately I am tendering my resignation from the Fort Worth Police Department.” The letter was released by the state’s largest police union, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas.

The group’s executive director, Charley Wilkison, said an attorney will be provided for Dean with financial support from the union.

Staff writer Luke Ranker contributed to this report.
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Mitch Mitchell is an award-winning reporter covering courts and crime for the Star-Telegram. Additionally, Mitch’s past coverage on municipal government, healthcare and social services beats allow him to bring experience and context to the stories he writes.