Former officer charged with murder in shooting of black woman at Texas home
'He didn't have time to perceive a threat. That's murder,' says lawyer for Atatiana Jefferson
A white Fort Worth, Tex., police officer who shot and killed a black woman through a back window of her home while responding to a call about an open front door was charged with murder on Monday after resigning from the force.
Aaron Dean, 34, was booked into jail Monday evening on $200,000 US bond after the police chief said he acted without justification and would have been fired if he didn't quit.
Video footage from a police body camera showed Dean approaching the door of the home where Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was caring for her eight-year-old nephew early Saturday. He then walked around the side of the house, pushed through a gate into the fenced-off backyard and fired through the glass a split-second after shouting at Jefferson to show her hands.
Dean was not heard identifying himself as police on the video, and interim police chief Ed Kraus said there was no sign Dean or the other officer who responded even knocked on the front door.
"Nobody looked at this video and said that there's any doubt that this officer acted inappropriately," Kraus said.
Earlier in the day, Jefferson's family had demanded that Dean, who had been a member of the police force since April 2018, be fired and arrested.
"You didn't hear the officer shout, 'Gun, gun, gun,"' family lawyer Lee Merritt said after viewing the police body camera footage. "He didn't have time to perceive a threat. That's murder."
In a statement released on the weekend, Fort Worth police said officers went to Jefferson's home around 2:25 a.m. on Saturday after a neighbour called a non-emergency line to report Jefferson's front door had been left open.
The department said officers saw someone near a window inside the home and that one of them drew his gun and fired after "perceiving a threat." The body camera video released by police shows two officers searching the home from the outside with flashlights before Dean shouts, "Put your hands up! Show me your hands!" and immediately fires.
Jefferson was staying up late, playing video games with her nephew, when she was killed, according to the family's lawyer.
As for what exactly led Dean to open fire, the police chief said, "I cannot make sense of why she [Jefferson] had to lose her life." He added that Dean resigned without talking to internal affairs investigators.
Backlash over photos of gun
The police video included images of a gun inside a bedroom. Kraus said he did not know whether Jefferson was holding the weapon. But he said the mere fact she had a gun shouldn't be considered unusual in Texas.
"We're homeowners in Texas," he said. "Most of us, if we thought we had somebody outside our house that shouldn't be and we had access to a firearm, we would be acting very similarly to how she was acting."
Kraus said that, in hindsight, releasing the images of the weapon was "a bad thing to do."
Mayor Betsy Price called the gun "irrelevant."
Atatiana was in her own home, caring for her eight-year-old nephew. She was a victim.- Betsy Price, Fort Worth mayor
"Atatiana was in her own home, caring for her eight-year-old nephew. She was a victim," Price said.
Texas has had a "castle doctrine" law on the books since 2007 that gives people a stronger legal defence to use deadly force in their homes. The law was backed at the time by the National Rifle Association and is similar to "stand your ground" measures across the U.S. that say a person has no duty to retreat from an intruder.
Fort Worth is about 50 kilometres west of Dallas, where another high-profile police shooting occurred last year.
In that case, Amber Guyger, a white Dallas police officer, shot and killed her black neighbour, Botham Jean, inside his own apartment after Guyger said she mistook his place for her own. Guyger, 31, was sentenced this month to 10 years in prison.
A large crowd gathered outside Jefferson's home Sunday night for a vigil after earlier demonstrations briefly stopped traffic on part of Interstate 35. A single bullet hole was visible in the window of the single-storey, freshly painted purple home, and floral tributes and stuffed animals piled up in the street.
The police chief said Dean could face state charges and that he had submitted a case to the FBI to review for possible federal civil rights charges.
Dean has had no previous incidents, aside from a traffic accident, Kraus said.
The former officer has not yet hired a lawyer but will have one provided with financial support from the state's largest police union, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, according to Charley Wilkison, executive director.
Family confused, wants answers
Jefferson's sister, Amber Carr, said that while she wants to see justice, "justice don't bring my sister back."
"It's another one of those situations where the people that are supposed to protect us are actually not here to protect us," she said.
An aunt, Venitta Body, said the family does not understand why Jefferson was killed.
"It's like from the moment we got the call, it's been more and more inconceivable and more confusing. And there has nothing been done in order to take away that confusion," Body said.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Democratic presidential candidate, on Sunday called on the Justice Department to investigate.
Jefferson was a 2014 graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans and earned a bachelor's degree in biology, the university said.
The killings of unarmed Black Americans have got to end. Atatiana Jefferson should be alive. The Department of Justice must investigate this. <a href="https://t.co/GbZNVyF0Yw">https://t.co/GbZNVyF0Yw</a>—@BernieSanders
Merritt told the Star-Telegram that Jefferson was working in pharmaceutical equipment sales and was considering going back to medical school.
According to a demographics report released by the Fort Worth Police Department, nearly two-thirds of its 1,100 officers were white as of June 30. Just over 20 per cent were Hispanic or Latino and about 10 per cent were black.
Relations with the public have been strained after other recent Fort Worth police shootings.
In June, the department released body camera footage of officers fatally shooting a man who ignored repeated orders to drop his handgun. He was the fourth person Fort Worth police had fired upon in 10 days.