FORT WORTH, Texas (CN) – Fort Worth officials on Monday identified the white police officer who shot and killed a black woman in her own home while responding to a welfare call, apologizing repeatedly for her “senseless” death and saying the officer has resigned.
Speaking to Atatiana Jefferson’s family, Mayor Betsy Price said, “I am sorry, there is no justification” for what happened. Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus identified the officer as Aaron Dean, who was hired in August 2017 and commissioned eight months later.
Kraus said he intended to fire Dean when investigators spoke with him hours earlier after a mandatory 48-hour cooling off period, but Dean tendered his resignation before that happened and has not been cooperative with investigators. He said Dean would have been fired with a dishonorable discharge due to violation of the department’s use of force policies.
Jefferson, 28, was killed at 2:30 a.m. Saturday at her mother’s home just south of downtown. Her neighbor called for a non-emergency welfare check of the home after seeing the front door ajar and lights on inside. She was playing a video game with her nephew Zion Carr, 8, before being shot.
Police 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 looked into a window and yelled “put your hands up, show me your hands,” before immediately firing his service weapon inside.
Dean is not shown identifying himself as police. 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.
Price told reporters that Jefferson having the handgun was “irrelevant” and that she was “in her own home caring for her nephew.” Kraus admitted the inclusion of the handgun images in the body camera video “was a bad idea” in hindsight.
“She acted like any other Texas homeowner would” hearing noises outside her home, he said.
When asked about the community’s outrage and suspicion of his police officers after the shooting, Kraus said, “I get it.” He said his fellow officers have told him in the days since the shooting “this is not how we operate.”
“No one looked at this video and thought there is no doubt this officer acted inappropriately,” Kraus said.
Kraus said Dean’s unidentified police partner is being treated as a witness in the shooting.
Price promised that an unspecified third-party panel will be brought in to perform a full review of the police department. Kraus confirmed that the FBI is looking into the shooting and that preliminary discussions have begun with the Texas Rangers to be involved. He added that details on any possible criminal charges against Dean would be announced Tuesday.
Price spoke directly to Jefferson’s neighbor, James Smith, 62, who spoke Saturday of the guilt he feels in causing her death. Price told him to “not blame yourself, you did the right thing” by calling the police.
Kraus said Smith’s call was not taken as a welfare call and was instead reported as an open structure call.
Attorney Lee Merritt, who was hired by Jefferson’s family, said at an earlier press conference in Dallas Monday morning that Smith had called police out of concern for the home’s owner and Jefferson’s mother, Yolanda Carr, who is currently recovering from a medical ailment.
He said Jefferson legally owned the gun in the body camera video and that she was licensed to carry, but criticized police for including it in the video out of context.
“They are trying to make the case the officer perceived a threat and reacted to their training,” Merritt said.
Jefferson’s older sister, Amber Carr, told reporters Jefferson had moved back in with her mother to help her with medical appointments and to help care for her young nephew.
Merritt said the family demands the city hand over the investigation to an outside agency, preferably the Justice Department. They also demand criminal charges against Dean.
“This officer not being in handcuffs is a source of continued agitation for this family and community,” Merritt said.
He said Jefferson and her nephew had “lost track of time” playing Call of Duty when they heard noises outside of the house.
Merritt said Jefferson’s death was “not a one-off” for the Fort Worth Police Department, saying it is “one of the deadliest in the nation” as he listed several recent police-involved deadly shootings.
He said Jefferson did not allow her nephew to approach the window before she was shot.
“I shudder to think what would have happened otherwise,” the attorney said.
Merritt also represents the family of Botham Jean in their federal civil rights lawsuit against fired Dallas cop and convicted murderer Amber Guyger and the city of Dallas. A Dallas County jury sentenced her to 10 years in state prison on Oct. 2 for erroneously entering Jean’s apartment on the fourth floor of the South Side apartments near downtown Dallas, mistaking it for 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.
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