FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) — A Texas jury sentenced former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean to nearly 12 years in state prison Tuesday for killing a Black woman through her window after not identifying himself as police during a requested welfare check.
A Tarrant County jury deliberated for nearly two full days before sentencing Dean, 38, of Arlington, to 11 years, 10 months and 12 days. He faced between two and 20 years in state prison. The decision came five days after jurors convicted Dean of manslaughter for shooting Atatiana Jefferson, 28, on Oct. 12, 2019.
Jurors declined to convicted Dean on a harsher charge of murder, where he would have faced between five and 99 years. No Black jurors were selected.
Dean would have been eligible to serve only probation if jurors had sentenced him to less than 10 years in prison.
The former officer did not react when the sentencing verdict was read. He wore a gray suit, red tie and appeared unshaven after spending his first several nights as an inmate at the Tarrant County Corrections Center. He was previously free on $200,000 bond. The trial lasted two full weeks.
Jurors were not persuaded by Dean’s claims of self-defense, that he was forced to shoot after he saw the barrel of a gun through a bedroom window. A neighbor had called a nonemergency police phone number requesting a welfare check due to Jefferson’s front door being left open. Prosecutors argued Dean never saw a gun, was rushed and violated police policy by failing to stay at the front door.
His body camera footage 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.
Jefferson was killed in front of her nephew Zion Carr, who was 8 years old at the time. He testified 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.
A 911 operator testified the welfare check request was coded as an open structure call. Defense attorney Mike Brissette, with Gill Brissette in Fort Worth, told jurors on the first day of trial that Dean did not identify himself because of a general order in place to treat open structure calls as a silent alarm.
Dean’s former police partner, Carol Darch, 28, defended the rookie pair’s decision to not enter the house. She testified it looked like a burglar may have “methodically” went through the house, but admitted she saw no signs of forced entry
“If there is a burglar inside, you don’t want them to know you are there and escape,” she told jurors.
Dean chose to testify in his own defense and struggled under cross-examination by prosecutors, admitting to several errors and inconsistencies. Tarrant County Assistant District Attorney Dale Smith accused Dean of violating his training by firing his gun without knowing what was behind Jefferson, to which Dean begrudgingly agreed.
Dean also admitted to verbally identifying himself as police in previous suspected burglaries, but not here. He replied “maybe” when asked if Jefferson would still be alive if he identified himself in this case.
Smith asked Dean to grade his performance that night, to which he said “I think I did a fine job.” Audible groans were heard from the courtroom gallery.
Dean appeared frustrated and repeatedly glanced at his attorneys during Smith’s questions, frequently pausing before answering “no” to several questions about whether he performed good police work at the scene.
Dr. Kyle Clayton told jurors during the sentencing phase that Dean had flunked a pre-employment psychological evaluation due to narcissistic and “domineering” personality traits that rendered him “not psychologically suitable” to work as a cop. He testified that applicants who flunk can appeal the findings to a panel of three psychologists for reevaluation.
Jurors also heard testimony Friday from Elizabeth Turner, who was in a homeschooled student organization at the University of Texas at Arlington with Dean when they were both students. She accused Dean of inappropriately touching her breast when she was 18 years old and making sexual advances that resulted in him being cited for assault.
Jefferson graduated from Xavier University in New Orleans in 2014 with a biology degree and was reportedly considering medical school at the time of her killing.
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