Officer Aaron Dean Found Guilty of Killing Atatiana Jefferson in Texas
SAN ANTONIO — A white police officer fatally shot a Black woman when he fired a bullet through her bedroom window while answering a call from a concerned neighbor who was killed. A jury in Texas found manslaughter on Thursday.
A grand jury in Fort Worth did not convict officer Aaron Dean of the murder charges that prosecutors had sought. He could face up to 20 years in prison following a two-week trial that followed years of delay.
The October 2019 shooting happened when Atatiana Jefferson, who was playing video games with her 8-year-old grandson, heard noises and grabbed her gun as she looked out her bedroom window mine. Mr. Dean, who was called by a neighbor who reported the door was open late at night, yelled at Mrs. Jefferson to raise her hand and immediately fired a shot through her window.
“She started to cry,” Jefferson’s grandson Zion Carr told the jury in testimony last week. He said his aunt collapsed near the window, groaning in pain before dying. “I was thinking, is that a dream?”
The shooting occurred long before two more famous cases, the deaths of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky., and George Floyd in Minneapolis at the hands of white police officers, which together caused reckoning. nation on race and policy. But Jefferson’s death in Fort Worth has raised longstanding distrust of police in Black and Latino neighborhoods there and elsewhere in Texas.
The vigils turned into street protests and sometimes led to intense confrontations between residents and local elected officials. Initially, the Fort Worth government responded to public outrage by acting quickly. The Fort Worth Police Department released the officer’s body-worn camera and arrested Dean a few days later.
But even as the officers in Mr Floyd and Ms Taylor’s case went on trial, the Fort Worth trial remained in limbo for years after a series of delays due to the coronavirus pandemic, tragedy personal and legal procedures of the defense. .
After two years of legal battles, defense attorneys argued in legal filings that the judge assigned to the case, David Hagerman, showed favoritism to their team and treated them with contempt. angry and hostile. The judge was removed from the case over the summer.
The trial was delayed again when it was announced that the lead defense attorney, Jim Lane, had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Mr. Lane died a day before jury selection began in late November.
The trial finally began on December 6 with a new judge, George Gallagher, and 14 jurors, none of whom were Black.
During the trial, prosecutors argued that Mr. Dean acted recklessly and used excessive force during a routine phone call that appeared to leave no one in imminent danger. “This is not a case of self-defense. This is a murder,” Ashlea Deener, assistant district attorney, told the jury.
Miles Brissette, representing the officer, said his client could not tell Ms. Jefferson’s gender or race from where he was standing outside her window and he was acting in self-defence. after noticing a gunman with an “a” gun. the green laser mounted on it pointed directly at him.”
“This is a tragic accident,” Mr. Brissette said.
Mr. Dean testified in his own defense and admitted at one point that his response to the call “should have been better.” But he stressed that he had been trained to “stop the threat”.
At the time of the incident, the association representing Mr. Dean, the Fort Worth Police Association, said he had never been the subject of an investigation and was “deeply shocked” by the shooting. The union said the only notable entry in his personnel file was because of a traffic accident. He joined the faculty in April 2018, a month after completing classes at the police academy.
Jefferson’s young grandson was the first witness to speak.
He recalls moving in not long before the shooting happened to his grandmother and aunt Tay, as he called her, because his mother was sick and couldn’t take care of him. His aunt, who graduated in 2014 from Louisiana’s Xavier University with a degree in biology and sells medical pharmaceutical equipment, dreams of going to medical school. But she also has a playful side and enjoys playing video games with him, the boy told the jury.
On the night of October 12, 2019, the two burned some burgers they were cooking and opened two doors to let the smoke out, Zion said in his testimony.
Zion had gone to bed and his aunt was up playing video games when a neighbor noticed the door open at around 2:30 a.m. and called a non-emergency number to report it, according to a summary of the reports. prosecutor’s event.
Mr. Dean and his partner, Carol Darch, then a recent graduate of the police academy, responded to the call for an “open structure”, a vague classification that could mean anything. anything from an ongoing burglary to a report of a burglary. abandoned housing. It was not a welfare check, prosecutors said, in which case officials often knock on doors or call inside.
At the time, Zion recalled in his testimony, he woke up and played video games with his aunt. That’s when Miss Jefferson heard a strange noise coming from outside and reached for a gun she kept in her purse, he said.
Ms. Deener, the prosecutor, said Mr. Dean shouted, “Hands up! Show me your hand!” but never gave Mrs. Jefferson a chance to react.
Zion said he doesn’t remember what led to the shooting, only that one minute ago his aunt was standing by the window and the next, she was on the floor.
“She was crying and shaking,” he said.
The day after he testified, the jury watched a video interview recorded two hours after the incident in which the boy, still in his pajamas, provided more details. He was heard telling a woman that he saw his aunt pointing a weapon at the window and that he had seen an officer’s badge, flashlight and gun on the other side of the window. . The jury also heard him in the same video saying that he heard the officer scream and ask his aunt to raise her hand; he said the officer opened fire after she disobeyed his orders.
He said that on the night of the incident, he was very confused, not knowing if what he was seeing was real or just part of a dream. A few days later, he learned that she was dead.