Former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean was arrested on Monday for the murder of Atatiana Jefferson. He was detained at the Tarrant County Correction Center. Dean, 34, resigned from the department before his arrest.
The killing took place on Saturday when Dean reportedly responded to a welfare check call from Jefferson’s neighbor, who was alarmed when he saw that her front door was ajar.
As the cop approached the home, he saw Jefferson through a window and yelled for her to raise her hands. The video footage from his police bodycam showed him firing his gun almost immediately after giving the order.
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He shot Jefferson from the fenced-in backyard instead of knocking at the front door. Though a search warrant is not needed for a welfare check and an officer can legally enter the home if no one answers, there is a legal protocol to knock at the front door first.
The footage from the shooting can be seen below.
Jefferson, 28, died on the scene. The young woman was in her home babysitting and playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew, according to multiple reports.
According to the arrest warrant obtained by NBC 5 News, Jefferson’s nephew told police that his aunt went to investigate noises she heard outside. He’s quoted as saying that “she took her handgun from her purse.” The boy said Jefferson “raised her handgun, pointed it toward the window” and “was shot and fell to the ground.”
Fort Worth Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus said that Jefferson having a gun in her home to protect herself didn’t justify her death. According to Texas’ Castle Doctrine Law, she was within her legal rights to possess the firearm.
In light of the new information, civil rights and Jefferson family attorney S. Lee Merritt has accused the Fort Worth Police Department of building a defense for Dean by emphasizing that Jefferson had a weapon before the former cop fired his gun, according to the Dallas Morning News.
“Suddenly, they’re building the defense in the arrest warrant itself for the officer, alleging that Atatiana pointed a weapon out of the window,” the attorney said.
Her murder has sparked national outrage. Dean’s subsequent resignation and arrest haven’t eased the Jefferson family’s pain.
Kraus planned to terminate Dean, but he resigned first. The termination will be listed as a dishonorable discharge.
“Had the officer not resigned, I would have fired him for violations for several policies, including our use of force policy, our de-escalation policy and unprofessional conduct,” Kraus told reporters.
According to Tran Law Firm, every police officer in the state is required to obtain a certification or license from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) before becoming an active cop. There are three types of discharges from the police force. They are honorable, general and dishonorable. The Fort Worth Police Department’s (FWPD) decision to issue Dean a dishonorable discharge indicates he was fired, retired or resigned before being terminated with relation to allegations of criminal misconduct.
A dishonorable discharge from any Texas law enforcement agency can most likely end a person’s career in law enforcement.
Kraus also said that Dean had not been cooperative. He quit before he could be questioned by investigators.
He had been with the FWPD since April 2018 and had no other disciplinary actions on his personnel record. The FWPD is primarily white followed by Latinos, though the Latino category does not account for race. The FWPD demographics report for 2019 can be viewed here.
The current procedure for officer-involved shootings is to have two concurrent but separate investigations by internal affairs and the criminal division. The criminal investigation takes precedence.
Merritt has stressed that although Dean’s arrest and murder charge are good beginnings, the leaders of the department need to be held accountable as well.
“This one officer obviously did something terrible and tragic, but this was a breakdown from the top to the bottom,” Merritt said.
Jefferson was the fifth person killed by a Fort Worth police officer in 2019, according to WFAA ABC News.
Dean’s bail was set at $200,000, and he has since been released on bond.