Crime

In job interview, officer who shot woman discusses use of force, desire to be a cop

Personnel records of a former Fort Worth officer who shot and killed a woman in her own home show his stance on using deadly force and his reasons for becoming a police officer.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to go into the military — thought about it, but I just never did it,” the officer, Aaron Dean, said during a job interview. “This is a way to do some of those same things without having to deploy overseas.”

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram obtained Dean’s personnel records and a video of his job interview with Fort Worth police through an open records request. Dean was employed with the Fort Worth Police Department for two years before his resignation.

Dean was charged with the murder of Atatiana Jefferson on Oct. 14. On Oct. 12, he shot and killed Jefferson in her home on East Allen Avenue. A neighbor had called a non-emergency number because Jefferson’s doors were open at about 2:30 a.m. and the neighbor was concerned.

The Fort Worth Police Department formally interviewed Dean in March 2017 after he completed training at the police academy. Dean was hired by the department on Aug. 21, 2017, and commissioned as a licensed peace officer on April 13, 2018.

In a 17-minute recorded interview with a five-officer panel, Dean described why he wanted to be a police officer. He said he wanted to serve his fellow citizens and help them in an immediate way and that he liked “the action and adventure that I hear the stories about that the job seems to promise.”

When an officer in the interview asked Dean if there was “a time to fight,” Dean said he would use force in self-defense or if there was an imminent threat. He also said he has a license to carry and always carries a firearm.

“The time to fight is certainly if I’m under, or someone I care about or I’m responsible for, is under imminent threat,” Dean said. “Absolutely if there is an imminent threat that I think it is necessary to defend myself, then that is absolutely the time to do so.”

As a follow-up question, an officer asked, “Will you be able to kill somebody if you have to?”

“No problem,” Dean answers quickly.

When asked about whether Fort Worth police ask each job applicant this question, Fort Worth Sgt. Chris Daniels said, “During the oral board interview process, it is important to determine whether or not an applicant has any reservations about performing as a police officer; unfortunately, deadly force may be one difficult decision one might face.”

“It’s important to understand that the use of deadly force is the most unlikely use of force an officer may face; however, being able to make that decision, when appropriate, may save someone’s life as well as the life of the officer,” Daniels said in an email.

However, he also said the officer should have been asked the question differently “as the use of deadly force is meant to stop a suspect from engaging in their deadly conduct rather than end their life.”

The shooting

In a news release on the day Dean shot Jefferson, police said Dean shot her after “perceiving a threat.”

Body camera footage showed Dean shouting at Jefferson through the window of her house. He did not identify himself as a police officer.

“Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” he shouted through the window, his gun drawn. Within seconds, he fired a single shot through the window.

According to the warrant charging Dean with murder, Jefferson had gotten a handgun out of her purse after she heard noises in her yard and thought there was a prowler outside. But Fort Worth officials have said Jefferson’s gun was irrelevant to the case because she had a right to be armed in defense of her home.

Officer’s performance reviews, background

In a May 2018 performance review, Dean’s supervisor said his report writing was good, but he had “tunnel vision” and missed calls for help over the radio. The supervisor said Dean “has poor communication skills” with the public and fellow officers.

Another review said when Dean forgot to do something, “rather than owning up to it, his responses are evasive and deflecting.”

However, in his most recent evaluation in April, Dean was given high marks from his supervisor.

“You are a young officer working at a level commonly seen from more experienced officers,” the officer wrote. “Keep up the good work!”

Dean, 35, was home schooled throughout high school and attended the University of Texas at Arlington, where he graduated in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in physics, according to his application with Fort Worth police.

According to his resume, he worked as a “design/test engineer for commercial refrigeration systems” before becoming a police officer.

Assault charge

While at UTA in 2004, Dean was charged with simple assault. He discussed the charge in his application and in his interview with Fort Worth police.

In his application, Dean said he was in the college library “flirting with a girl I was friends with, who had flirted with me on previous occasions. During the course of the exchange, I put my arms around her and at one point stroked her breast. She told me this made her uncomfortable and asked me to stop, which I immediately did, quite embarrassed and apologetic. She later reported the incident to police.”

In his interview, one of the officers asked Dean about the charge and what changes he had made since.

“It was a young lady at the school flirting with me. I just wanted to respond, see how it would go. It escalated a bit. I touched her inappropriately,” he said in the interview.

Dean said he asked the woman not to report the assault because he attended a conservative church and was “worried about tarring and feathering and all that,” but she contacted Arlington police.

Dean pleaded no-contest to the charge, which is a misdemeanor, and paid a fine.

Dean told officers that after the charge, he became more careful about his actions and how they are perceived.

According to Fort Worth’s civil service rules and regulations, the misdemeanor charge would not prevent Dean from being hired as an officer.

Daniels said Dean’s simple assault charge “was given considerable scrutiny during the hiring process.”

Resignation

Dean’s personnel records also include his resignation letter from the police department. Police Chief Ed Kraus said he would have fired Dean if he had not resigned first.

On Oct. 12, Dean and another officer parked around the corner from Jefferson’s house in the 1200 block of East Allen Avenue, did not announce themselves and went into the back yard. Dean shot Jefferson through the window when Jefferson, who had been playing video games with her nephew, looked out the window after hearing noises.

The letter from Dean to Kraus is one sentence long: “Effective immediately I am tendering my resignation from the Fort Worth Police Department.”

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Kaley Johnson is a breaking news and enterprise reporter. She majored in investigative reporting at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has a passion for bringing readers in-depth, complex stories that will impact their lives. Send your tips via email or Twitter.
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