FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) — Defense attorneys rested their case Tuesday in the murder trial of former Fort Worth cop Aaron Dean as two use-of-force experts disagreed as to whether he acted reasonably when he killed Atatiana Jefferson during a welfare check.
Dean, 38, of Arlington, was indicted for killing the Black woman at her home on Oct. 12, 2019. A neighbor had called a nonemergency police phone number requesting the check due to her front door being left open.
His body camera footage from that night shows Dean walking up to the open front door, then walking down the side of the home before suddenly yelling “put your hands up, show me your hands!” and immediately firing his service weapon inside. Dean is not shown identifying himself as police at any time. He appeared relieved when he discovered a gun near Jefferson and is not shown rendering any aid as she lay dying.
Defense witness Jay Coons told jurors Dean and his partner Carol Darch, 28, acted reasonably when they responded to the call. He said it appeared the pair acted “methodically” and not rushed when they approached the house. Prosecutors have argued the pair were rushed and violated police department policies when they left the front door open.
“You have enough information to go in,” Coons said. “This is a burglary in progress.”
Coons – who formerly served as a sheriff’s deputy in Harris County and is currently a criminal justice professor at Sam Houston State University – also disputed prosecution claims that Dean appeared indifferent to Jefferson dying on the floor, stating the first thing Dean is shown doing inside the bedroom is calling on the radio for medical attention.
Prosecutors called forensic analyst Jonathyn Priest to testify as a rebuttal witness after the defense rested their case. A veteran of the Denver Police Department, Priest told jurors Dean and Darch made several rushed mistakes that include leaving the front door open because it created an exit for the burglar they believed to be inside.
“We don’t have an emergency, we don’t have a rush, this isn’t a race,” Priest testified. “I keep going back to this, but I really don’t understand why they left that front door. Back off and call for some assistance.”
Dean’s attorneys say the pair did not identify themselves at the door because of a general order to treat open structure calls the same as a silent alarm.
Jefferson was killed in front of her nephew Zion Carr, who was 8 years old at the time. He testified last week that his aunt was playing video games with him when she went for the gun in her purse after hearing noises outside the house. Now 11, Carr said he did not see her lift the gun up and that it was kept at her hip.
Testifying in his own defense on Monday, Dean told jurors he fired in self-defense after he saw the barrel of the gun through the window. He appeared to struggle greatly during cross-examination by prosecutors, admitting to several mistakes and inconsistencies. Dean admitted to violating his training by firing without knowing what was behind Jefferson. He also admitted to having announced himself as police in earlier burglary calls he had responded to, but not this one.
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