FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) — The family of Atatiana Jefferson has filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit against the city of Fort Worth and the former cop who shot the Black woman to death through a window of her own home during a welfare check last year.
Relatives Jerome Eschor, Arita Eschor and Venitta Body claim Aaron Dean – who is white – failed to identify himself as a police officer and went straight into the backyard instead of knocking at the front door in the early morning of Oct. 12, 2019. In their lawsuit filed Friday and made available Monday, they seek compensatory and punitive damages for excessive force, assault, battery and supervisory liability.
“Dean, immediately, within seconds of seeing the resident inside of her home; shot her dead through a window of the home,” the 17-page complaint states. “Defendant Dean in his prowl around the backyard of her home, caused Atatiana fear and uncertainty … Dean failed to render medical aide to Atatiana.”
The lawsuit’s claims mirror what was recorded on Dean’s body camera that morning. Fort Worth police released a heavily edited, two-minute long video within hours of the shooting that show Dean walking up to the open front door before walking down the side of the house.
Dean is shown suddenly peering into a window before yelling “put your hands up, show me your hands” and immediately firing his service weapon inside. He is not shown identifying himself as police at any time.
Jefferson was reportedly playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew immediately before being killed. Jefferson was 28 years old and a 2014 graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans with a biology degree.
Her family, represented by Tanika Solomon in Houston and Bassey O. Akpaffiong in nearby Sugar Land, claims Fort Worth officials knew or should have known Dean “exhibited a pattern of escalating encounters with the public” in violation of police procedures. Dean was hired in August 2017 and commissioned eight months later.
The Fort Worth Police Department declined to comment on the lawsuit Monday afternoon, citing a gag order in place since October 2019 in Dean’s criminal case. City officials declined to comment on the lawsuit Monday evening, stating they have not been formally served with the complaint yet.
Jefferson’s killing drew swift condemnation from the community as the Dallas-Fort Worth area was still reeling from the murder trial and conviction of former Dallas cop Amber Guyger two weeks before Jefferson’s death. A Dallas County jury sentenced Guyger to 10 years in prison for shooting and killing Black accountant Botham Jean in his own apartment.
Fort Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus said shortly after Jefferson’s death that he was planning on firing Dean for violating the department’s use of force policies, but said Dean resigned before he had the chance.
Dean was charged with murder one day after the shooting. He was formally charged by a Tarrant County grand jury two months later. He is currently free on $200,000 bond and is scheduled to stand trial in August next year.
Republican Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price later appointed an eight-member independent panel to review the police department’s practices and patterns of stops, searches, arrests, use of force, training, de-escalation tactics and reporting procedures. The panel also reviewed the department’s general orders, interactions with residents and training for traffic stops.