FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) – The white Texas police officer who shot and killed a black woman in her home over the weekend is out on bond after being charged with murder, authorities said Tuesday.
Former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean was charged on Monday evening several hours after he resigned and refused to cooperate with both criminal and administrative investigators. He was arrested at 6 p.m. at his attorney’s office and was released from the Tarrant County Jail hours later after posting $200,000 bond, Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus said Tuesday morning.
Dean, who was hired in August 2017 and commissioned eight months later, is charged with killing Atatiana Jefferson, 28, who died at 2:30 a.m. Saturday at her mother’s home just south of downtown Fort Worth. Her neighbor called for a non-emergency welfare check of the home after seeing the front door ajar and lights on inside.
Jefferson was playing a video game with her nephew, Zion Carr, 8, before she was shot.
Police quickly released a body camera video within hours of the shooting. The two-minute video is heavily edited and shows Dean walking up to the open front door, then walking down the side of the house. He suddenly looks into a window and yells “put your hands up, show me your hands,” before immediately firing his service weapon inside.
Dean is not shown identifying himself as a police officer. 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.
On Tuesday, an emotional Kraus discussed his officers’ frustrations and anger in the three days since the shooting, describing their efforts to build relationships with the community “like ants building an ant hill and it is suddenly washed away with a water hose and you have to start over.”
He said officers have thanked him for Dean’s removal from the force and arrest. He opened the press conference apologizing to Jefferson’s family.
“We are bringing in an independent third party to evaluate our practices, policies and procedures to ensure we are above best practices standards,” Kraus said. “I ask you to please not let the actions of one officer reflect on the other 1,700. There is no excuse, the person responsible will be held accountable.”
He said Dean and another officer responded to the call the way they did because it was recorded as an open structure call by the dispatcher instead of the welfare call the neighbor made.
Kraus said he was planning to fire Dean when investigators first spoke with him Monday morning after a mandatory 48-hour cooling off period, but Dean tendered his resignation before that happened. He said Dean would have been fired with a dishonorable discharge due to a violation of department use of force policies, and said the officer’s gun and badge were taken away a day after the shooting when he was issued an administrative warning.
Attorney Lee Merritt, flanked by Jefferson’s family, said in a separate press conference Tuesday they “relished briefly” Dean’s arrest before he bonded out.
“We do not see officers led away in handcuffs very often,” he said. “There is a lot more road to cover. The family wants a murder conviction and long prison sentence.”
Pointing to the recent murder conviction and 10-year prison sentence for former Dallas cop Amber Guyger, Merritt said “10 years is not enough” in this case.
“Fort Worth has not done enough,” the attorney said. “We hear bold predictions from the mayor … but this is the police department she is responsible for.”
Mayor Betsy Price apologized to Jefferson’s family Monday, deeming the killing “senseless” and with “no justification.” She promised to bring in a third-party panel to review the department.
Carr told investigators Jefferson pointed her gun at her window when she heard noises outside the house, according to an arrest warrant released Tuesday afternoon. Merritt said Monday she legally owned the gun and was licensed to carry. The attorney said she made the child step away from the window before she was shot, adding he “shudder[ed] to think” what would have happened if she did not.
Jefferson yelled in pain when she was shot and she fell to the floor, her nephew reportedly said.
The warrant states the other unidentified officer on the scene was only able to see Jefferson’s face in the window when Dean opened fire. The release of Dean’s body camera video is inconclusive as to whether Jefferson was pointing her gun when she was shot, as her face is obscured by light from a flashlight.
Merritt railed against systemic problems with policing in black communities and with senior police leadership, citing the Fort Worth Police Department’s record of 10 officer-involved shootings so far this year. He called the high number “not sustainable.”
“Someone sent this officer here, he did not come of his own volition,” Merritt said. “Who sent the equivalent of a SWAT team to answer a welfare call in a black community? Officer Dean should be held accountable, but so should the system … why are we parking around the corner, why are we creeping around, do we even have authority to enter the backyard given the facts? This was a breakdown from top to bottom.”
Merritt also represents the family of Botham Jean, who Guyger killed after erroneously entering his Dallas apartment on the fourth floor instead of 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.