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Former Fort Worth cop testifies in trial over killing of Black woman in her home

Aaron Dean admitted to jurors Atatiana Jefferson may still be alive today if he had identified himself as police while responding to a welfare check request.

FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) — Former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean disastrously admitted to jurors several times Monday that he failed to perform good police work in the killing of Atatiana Jefferson during a welfare call three years ago.

Dean, 38, of Arlington, testified in his own defense during the fourth day of his murder trial. He has remained free on a $200,000 bond after he was indicted for killing the Black woman on Oct. 12, 2019. A neighbor had called a nonemergency police phone number that night requesting a welfare check after Jefferson’s front door was left open.

In a two-minute body camera video released by police, Dean is shown 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.

Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Dale Smith attacked Dean’s claims of self-defense on cross-examination. Smith emphasized for jurors alleged failures immediately before and after Dean fired his gun, asking why he never told his partner, Carol Darch, 28, he saw a gun.

“You did not seem very concerned for [your partner’s] safety if you thought there were burglars in the house,” Smith said.

Smith accused Dean of violating his police training by firing his weapon without knowing what was behind Jefferson, to which Dean begrudgingly agreed.

Dean also admitted to verbally identifying himself as police in previous burglary calls. He replied “maybe” when asked if Jefferson would still be alive if he identified himself in this case.

The former officer appeared to struggle during Smith’s line of questioning, frequently pausing before answering “no” to several questions about whether he performed good police work at the scene. Dean repeatedly glanced at his attorneys during cross-examination.

Smith asked Dean to grade his performance that night, to which he said “I think I did a fine job.” Audible groans were immediately heard from the courtroom gallery.

“There are probably things I could have done better,” Dean said.

Smith described everything Dean did that night as being “a quick look,” implying he was rushed and careless.

“You didn’t really follow any rules or regulations, did you?” he asked.

Dean was emotional and repeatedly sniffled while under direct examination by his attorneys, stating he saw a “bent down torso” when he looked into Jefferson’s window. He claimed he saw more than what his body camera video shows.

“I thought we had a burglar … so I drew my weapon to ask the person to show their hands,” he testified.

He looked down and covered his nose during cross-examination when prosecutors played an extended clip of his body camera video. Loud moaning can be heard after the shot, indicating a dying Jefferson in her bedroom.

Dean repeatedly stated the messy interior of the house and the open drawers and cabinets indicated that a burglary may have been ongoing.

“Objects were strewn all over the floor,” he said. “It looked ransacked, a mess.”

Darch testified last week that the pair did not identify themselves as police because the call was coded as an open structure and they did not want to alert a possible burglar inside. Dean’s attorneys claimed during opening arguments the Fort Worth Police Department has a general order in place to treat such calls the same as a silent alarm, resulting in the “tragic accident” of Jefferson’s death.

Prosecutors pushed back on this claim Monday, implying that Dean’s use of his flashlight in Jefferson’s back yard would have given away their presence anyway.

Dean told jurors he fired after Jefferson’s gun “was pointed directly at me.”

“I heard her scream and saw her fall,” he said. “We are taught to meet deadly force with deadly force.”

The defendant admitted on cross-examination that he decided to fire after seeing the barrel of Jefferson’s gun, but that he did not see the gun pointed at him in an upright position.

Dean was first hired by Fort Worth in August 2017 and commissioned eight months later. He refused to cooperate with separate administrative and criminal investigations into the killing and resigned.

The trial has been delayed at least five times since it was tentatively scheduled to begin in August 2020. In-person court proceedings were delayed repeatedly due to the Covid-19 pandemic and there was a change in judges after defense attorneys argued the previous judge showed bias against them.

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