Community Outraged After Police Kill Texas Woman at Home

Pastor Michael Bell addresses the community over the police shooting of Atatiana Jefferson at the Greater Saint Stephen First Church on Oct. 12, 2019. (David Lee/CNS)

FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) – A white Fort Worth cop is on administrative leave after he shot and killed a black homeowner through her window during a welfare check Saturday, angering a community still reeling from the murder conviction of former Dallas cop Amber Guyger two weeks ago for killing her unarmed black neighbor.

Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was killed by the unidentified police officer at 2:30 a.m. just south of downtown. Her neighbor called for a non-emergency check of the home after seeing the front door ajar and lights on inside.

“Responding officers searched the perimeter of the house and observed a person standing inside the residence near a window,” police said in a written statement. “Perceiving a threat the officer drew his duty weapon and fired one shot, striking the person inside the residence. Officers entered the residence locating the individual and a firearm and began providing emergency medical care.

The officer has been on the force since April 2018.

Police released a body camera video within hours of the shooting. The two minute-long video is heavily edited and shows the officer walking up to the open front door, then walking down the side of the house. He suddenly looks into a window, yells “put your hands up, show me your hands” and immediately fires his service weapon inside. He is not shown identifying himself as police. The video later cuts to footage of what appears to be a handgun inside the house, but does not show where the weapon is located in relation to Jefferson or if it is in the same room.

The neighbor, James Smith, 62, was subdued as he told reporters how he blamed himself for the shooting.

“If I had never dialed the police department, she’d still be alive,” he said outside of the home.

Jefferson’s family hired attorney Lee Merritt, who said her killing “represents a breaking point” and called it a “murder.”

“Atatiana Jefferson should be enjoying her family today,” he posted on Facebook. “A clear message has been sent— we are no longer safe in our own homes. Our community has been backed into a corner. We have no choice but to fight back now.”

Merritt said Jefferson was playing video games with her young nephew when she was shot.

Jefferson graduated from Xavier University in New Orleans in 2014 with a biology degree. She was considering going back to medical school, Merritt said.

Community and religious leaders gathered at Greater Saint Stephen First Church hours after the shooting, angrily denouncing police claims of Jefferson being a “perceived threat” to the officer. Pastor Michael Bell said “we are tired of the police lying,” that it is only a perceived threat if black people are involved.

“Black folks, it’s our presence. Are we the threat?” asked Bell. “If we are the threat, then stay the hell out of our community. We will patrol our own community if we are the threat. They are going to put a mess out like this and say she had a weapon? She was in her house. It does not say she pointed a weapon. They found one when they went in.”

An unidentified activist behind Bell interjected, saying, “white folks have weapons.”

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas demanded Sunday the release of “all body cam footage in its original format,” saying police “must answer to the community they serve and act transparently.”

Merritt also represents the family of Botham Jean in their federal civil rights lawsuit against Guyger and the city of Dallas. A Dallas County jury sentenced her to ten years in state prison on Oct. 2 for erroneously entering Jean’s apartment on the fourth floor of the South Side apartments near downtown Dallas, mistaking it for her own on the third floor. She entered the ajar door before firing into the dark at what she believed was an intruder inside, striking Jean in the chest.

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