Fort Worth

Fort Worth pastors renew their call for a federal consent decree to examine policing

A pastor and community activist gathered with other faith leaders to renew their calls Wednesday for the Fort Worth Police Department to be placed under federal oversight.

Kyev Tatum, pastor of New Mount Rose Missionary Baptist Church, said the unjustified death of Atatiana Jefferson — a black woman who was playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew before she was shot and killed by a white Fort Worth police officer — makes federal oversight a necessity.

The renewed call for federal oversight comes just days before a pre-scheduled nationwide consent degree conference this weekend that will be hosted by Tarleton State University’s school of criminology.

Federal judges, members of the U.S. Department of Justice’s civil rights division and others in law enforcement are attending and will discuss how police reforms negotiated as consent decrees are progressing in other areas of the United States, said Alex Del Carmen, associate dean of Tarleton State University’s criminology school and a former federal monitor of police departments under consent decrees.

A consent decree is a negotiated agreement entered as a court order that is enforceable by a judge, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Tatum, who said he will be attending the conference, wants to speak with federal and state officials where consent decrees have been ordered to determine what methods work and what has not worked in their jurisdictions. Just because something works in one place does not mean it will work here, Tatum said.

Tatum said the city’s plan to locate and convene a panel of policing experts to evaluate the Fort Worth Police Department’s policies and practice hampers the panel’s independence.

“The plan to hire a panel of experts is not viable and it’s insulting,” Tatum said. “The city wants to say what happens in our neighborhoods from the top down. They do not feel as though they have to listen to us.”

It is interesting that the types of events related to policing that have occurred in North Texas have happened just days or weeks before the conference is scheduled to convene, Tatum said.

Consent decree requests

Tatum first called for federal oversight of the police department in June after the fatal shooting of JaQuavion Slaton by Fort Worth police.

Slaton, 20, was shot on June 9 while hiding inside a pickup truck after officers tried to arrest him on an assault warrant. He suffered seven gunshot wounds, six of which of were fired by three officers, and another that Slaton fired himself, the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office has said.

In 2019, Fort Worth police officers have shot seven people, six of them fatally, according to records. Four of the people were black, two were white and one was Hispanic. All of the shootings occurred after June 1.

This most recent call for federal oversight was sparked by Jefferson’s death. Jefferson was shot through the window of her mother’s home in the 1200 block of East Allen Avenue on Saturday by Aaron Dean, who resigned Monday from the Fort Worth Police Department on Monday, hours prior to his arrest on a murder charge.

Atatiana Jefferson (middle right), her nephew Zion (middle left) and other family members pose for a photo. Zion was in the room early Saturday morning when Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean shot and killed Jefferson through a window. Courtesy of Lee Merritt

Tatum shared a letter he wrote to U.S. Attorney General William Barr requesting that the Fort Worth Police Department be placed under a consent decree.

“Our community has become besieged with a violent police culture that most recently revealed its horrendous face with the unlawful murder of Atatiana Jefferson in her very own home,” Tatum’s letter says.

“The unjust and unlawful execution of Atatiana Jefferson in front of her 8-year old nephew, and just miles from the murder of Bothan Jean in Dallas, Texas is the latest in a series of police involved shootings in Ft. Worth that clearly demonstrate a callous disregard for the value of lives of people of color that requires immediate federal intervention.”

Police released a statement in response to Tatum’s letter saying that they are focused on the Jefferson shooting investigation.

“At this time the Fort Worth Police Department is focused on completing the investigation for Atatiana Jefferson, her family, and the community in consistent, open, and transparent fashion,” the Fort Worth police statement says.

“Our priority is the consistent release of vital and factual information in a timely manner to inform the public and provide a context of what occurred on all such serious matters. The request by this group for a federal consent decree is obviously their prerogative but it is not the Department’s focus or a factor that we are involved in.”

Federal oversight of police in other cities

Federal agencies have employed consent decrees to overhaul troubled local police departments. Several police departments, such as Ferguson, Missouri; New Orleans and Baltimore, were placed under consent decrees during the Obama administration. But that activity slowed after President Donald Trump’s appointment of Jeff Sessions as attorney general.

Sessions, who was critical of consent decrees, distributed a memo shortly before leaving office limiting their use by the U.S. Department of Justice, which often instigated consent degree settlement negotiations or filed lawsuits to encourage cities to negotiate.

The Chicago Police Department went under a court-ordered consent decree this year after the city was sued by the then Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

These court-monitored agreements can last more than a decade, can cost millions of dollars but can sometimes be helpful in reforming police department culture, Del Carmen said.

A consent decree can cost much less than a string of jury rulings against a police department, Del Carmen said.

“Now, more than ever a federal consent decree is a timely topic of discussion,” Del Carmen said. “The attendees at the conference are aware of recent events in the Metroplex and I expect a topic of conversation.”

This story includes material from Star-Telegram archives.

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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.