Fort Worth Police Officer Charged With Murder In Death Of Atatiana Jefferson

The officer involved in the shooting death of a woman in Fort Worth, Texas has been charged with murder.

Aaron Dean, who has been identified as the Fort Worth, Texas police officer who shot through a window during a welfare check over the weekend, killing 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson in her home, has been fired and charged with murder:

The white Fort Worth police officer who fatally shot a 28-year-old black woman in her home over the weekend has been charged with murder, authorities said Monday.

The officer, Aaron Dean, who resigned earlier in the day, was booked into the Tarrant County Jail, according to police. Bond has been set at $200,000, jail records show.

Authorities moved quickly to arrest Dean after he shot Atatiana Jefferson through a closed window in her Fort Worth home while responding to a welfare call in the early hours of Saturday morning. In fatal officer-involved shootings, police seldom face criminal charges, and they are rarely charged with murder.

The prosecution of the officer is likely to serve as a stress test of relations between law enforcement and the black community in the region, which is still reeling from the fallout of an earlier case involving a white officer who shot a black neighbor in his apartment. Local leaders have called for a probe of the department, and Jefferson’s family and their attorney want an independent review of Jefferson’s killing, saying they worry race may have played a role.

A police spokesman, Christopher Daniels, acknowledged those concerns in a brief news conference Monday night. “To the citizens and residents of our city, we feel and understand your anger and your disappointment,” he said. “And we stand by you as we work together to make Fort Worth a better place for us all.”

The family’s attorney, Lee Merritt, said Jefferson’s parents and siblings were relieved Dean had been arrested. “We need to see this through to a vigorous prosecution & appropriate sentencing,” Merritt tweeted. “The City of Fort Worth has much work to do to reform a brutal culture of policing.”

Police said Dean had been with the Fort Worth Police Department since April 2018. Had he not resigned on his own, he would have been fired for violations of the department’s policies on use of force, de-escalation and unprofessional conduct in connection with the shooting, Fort Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus said Monday afternoon.

The department has also asked the FBI to review Dean’s actions for possible civil rights violations, according to the chief.

“None of this information can ease the pain of Atatiana’s family, but I hope it shows the community that we take these incidents seriously,” Kraus said. He apologized to the family on behalf of the department, saying he has “not been able to make sense of why she had to lose her life.”

More from The Dallas Morning News, which reports that Dean has been released on bond:

Aaron Dean, 34, was booked Monday evening into the Tarrant County Jail, where his bail was set at $200,000. He was released on bond at 9:15 p.m., a spokeswoman with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department said.

Dean had resigned from the Fort Worth Police Department earlier in the day.

Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus said he had intended to fire Dean, who was set to be interviewed Monday morning, but Dean quit first. His record will reflect a dishonorable discharge.

Kraus said Dean resigned before he answered any questions.

Dean, who had been on the force since April 2018, has not been cooperative, the chief said.

“He resigned before his opportunity to be cooperative,” Kraus said.

The chief said the department normally investigates officer-involved shootings with two separate but concurrent processes: an internal affairs investigation and a criminal investigation, with the criminal investigation taking precedence.

Fort Worth police spokesman Sgt. Chris Daniels said at a brief news conference Monday night that the department took Dean into custody about 6 p.m. He said the department is still “working diligently to complete the criminal and administrative investigations” and is in close contact with the Tarrant County district attorney’s office.

Police did not take any questions at the news conference. The chief is expected to provide an update Tuesday.

(…)

Jefferson’s two sisters and brother told The Dallas Morning News in a interview Monday night along with their attorney Lee Merritt that Dean’s arrest was a good first step.

“I remember Lee talking about them not liking to arrest cops, so they did that,” said Jefferson’s brother, Adarius Carr. “That’s a huge step for us.

They are willing to understand this is serious and we mean it. Justice is important to us.”

The family said they want to see Dean indicted but they really aren’t sure what comes next.

“This has been such an unimaginable thing that we are still trying to process,” said Jefferson’s oldest sister, Ashley Carr. The three siblings said late Monday night that they’d been awake since the sun rose.

Merritt, who handles civil cases involving police shootings nationwide. said officers usually aren’t arrested and handcuffed before the case is sent to a grand jury.

He said that has only happened with Guyger and with Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2018 for murdering Jordan Edwards. Oliver fired into a car the 15-year-old was in as it drove away from the officer. Both Guyger and Oliver were convicted in Dallas County.

Merritt and the family called for an independent investigation into the shooting at a news conference earlier Monday.

Jefferson’s two sisters and brother told The Dallas Morning News in a interview Monday night along with their attorney Lee Merritt that Dean’s arrest was a good first step.

“I remember Lee talking about them not liking to arrest cops, so they did that,” said Jefferson’s brother, Adarius Carr. “That’s a huge step for us.

They are willing to understand this is serious and we mean it. Justice is important to us.”

The family said they want to see Dean indicted but they really aren’t sure what comes next.

“This has been such an unimaginable thing that we are still trying to process,” said Jefferson’s oldest sister, Ashley Carr. The three siblings said late Monday night that they’d been awake since the sun rose.

Merritt, who handles civil cases involving police shootings nationwide. said officers usually aren’t arrested and handcuffed before the case is sent to a grand jury.

He said that has only happened with Guyger and with Balch Springs police officer Roy Oliver, who was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2018 for murdering Jordan Edwards. Oliver fired into a car the 15-year-old was in as it drove away from the officer. Both Guyger and Oliver were convicted in Dallas County.

Merritt and the family called for an independent investigation into the shooting at a news conference earlier Monday.

The fact that Dean was arrested so soon after the incident, and apparently before he was even questioned by police investigators, is a strong sign that prosecutors believe that they have a strong case against him. Based on the facts of the case, that certainly seems to be the case. Dean and his partner were supposed to be conducting a welfare check on the home based on the phone call of a concerned neighbor who noticed that the door to the home was open even though it was late in the evening.

When they arrived, though, neither officer bothered to check the front door, choosing instead to search the property. It was during this search that Dean, seeing someone looking out the window, shined a light in the window. It was at that point that he opened fire without identifying himself as a police officer. There has been some allegation that Jefferson may or may not have had a gun but given the fact that she was alone in the house with her nephew and saw someone outside the window. For all she knew it was someone trying to break into the house. Whatever the case, it’s clear that Drake fired without taking any steps to verify what was going on, a clear violation of applicable protocol and clearly facts that justify a murder charge.

There is, inevitably, much emphasis on the fact that Dean is white while Jefferson was African-American. However, it isn’t at all clear that there was any racial bias or motive involved in this incident. This is largely because it’s not clear that Dean was even aware of the race of the person he was shooting at. Absent that crucial element, it’s unclear whether this can be charged as being race-based under Federal law.

All of this comes just a few weeks after former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was found guilty of the murder of Botham Jean after an off-duty shooting during which she shot Jean in his own apartment. Guyger ended up being sentenced to ten years in prison but could have received as much as 99 years had the jury been so inclined. Obviously, Drake is to be considered innocent until proven guilty just as Guyger was, but the facts do not look to be in his favor.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts, Race and Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Paul L. says:

    Talking points for the Fort Worth Police Officers Association.
    “Before the internal investigation was complete, The Fort Worth Police illegally released the body camera footage to the media impacting the integrity of ongoing investigations and the eventual prosecutorial review processes that will be pending at the conclusion of the investigations.
    Everybody who hates cops had something negative to say about the footage.”

    1st Rule of Policing: Police have the right and the duty to go home at the end of each watch. It does not matter how many non-law enforcement personnel are injured or killed or have their “rights” violated to achieve this goal as Police are entitled to impunity for their violence and protection from harm above all others.

    6
    6
  2. grumpy realist says:

    The fact that the police officer resigned before answering any questions makes me wonder if he was high on something.

    They probably didn’t check for that and it’s too late now. But the actions of the two police officers seem so far off from standard policy (and so stupid) it’s hard to not suspect drugs of some form.

  3. Bill says:

    @grumpy realist:

    But the actions of the two police officers seem so far off from standard policy (and so stupid) it’s hard to not suspect drugs of some form.

    Or drunk.

  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Dean resigned the following day. If the FWPD followed protocol, they would have debriefed him after the shooting and completed a drug/alcohol screening. I suspect that it will be to Dean’s disadvantage to have resigned as he likely forfeits any civil service or union contract provisions. Now he’d just a perp subject to the whims of the DA till this goes to court.

  5. Teve says:

    @Sleeping Dog: I think I saw that the union was getting him a lawyer.

  6. DrDaveT says:

    @Paul L.: You folks who are downvoting this, your sarcasm detectors need adjustment. Paul L. has been consistently protesting abuses by police for a long time on this site. Save your downvotes for his silly defenses of Trump.

  7. Gustopher says:

    @Paul L.: There are very, very few times that I agree with you, but yes, the police protect themselves instead of the community.

    I think they should protect themselves and the community — and that they should be trained to deescalate situations, rather than shoot first and ask questions later. They shouldn’t have to wait to get killed, but there’s a difference between a potential threat and an imminent threat and a woman playing video games with her kid.

  8. mattbernius says:

    @DrDaveT:
    You are completely right about Paul L. This has long been a topic of concern for him.

    As far as the downvotes, I wonder how many might be tried to presentation versus content. He tends to come across as a bit of a “Walter.”

    Walter Sobchak:
    Am I wrong?

    The Dude:
    No you’re not wrong.

    Walter Sobchak:
    Am I wrong?

    The Dude:
    You’re not wrong Walter. You’re just an asshole.

    Walter Sobchak:
    All right then.

    https://www.quotes.net/mquote/9306

  9. CSK says:

    The spin now seems to be that Ms. Jefferson was pointing a gun at Dean.

  10. R.Dave says:

    @grumpy realist: The fact that the police officer resigned before answering any questions makes me wonder if he was high on something.

    Hm, I suppose that’s possible, but my initial reaction was to be more favorably disposed towards him, as I think it suggests genuine remorse over what happened. He knows he acted wrongly and an innocent person died as a result, so his instinct was to take responsibility for that by handing in his badge instead of trying to hide behind it.

    Of course, I’m probably just being pollyannaish, and reality will once again take a huge, steaming dump on my optimistic presumptions about people (see, e.g., the 2016 election).

  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @DrDaveT: Now, that’s the difference between you and me. Because of the type of blather he normally spouts here, I read the comment as supporting the police “right” to return home at the end of the shift.

    But I almost never downvote Paul L. Seems like rewarding him to my thinking.

    @R.Dave: You certainly could be right about being overly optimistic, sorry to say. But I was hoping that, too.

  12. mattbernius says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Because of the type of blather he normally spouts here, I read the comment as supporting the police “right” to return home at the end of the shift.

    No Dr Dave’s is definitely right. Paul has been rightly grinding this particular axe for quite a while. It’s also his habit to use a style where he takes the silent “/s” to the extreme. But I can see how you’d react that way.

  13. Mu says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Cops usually get a “cool down” period before they have to make a statement, so he most likely was not debriefed. He resigned when the cool down period was up and he decided that he’s better off not making a statement at that point, as he would have been required otherwise.