Texas LEO jailed on murder charge after fatally shooting woman in her home
Aaron Dean had resigned from the Fort Worth Police Department earlier in the day
By Dana Branham and Sarah Sarder
The Dallas Morning News
FORT WORTH, Texas — The Fort Worth officer who fatally shot 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson in her home this weekend was jailed Monday on a murder charge.
Aaron Dean, 34, was booked Monday evening into the Tarrant County Jail. He had resigned from the Fort Worth Police Department earlier in the day.
Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus said he had intended to fire Dean, who was set to be interviewed Monday morning, but Dean quit first. His record will reflect a dishonorable discharge.
Kraus said Dean resigned before he answered any questions.
Dean, who had been on the force since April 2018, has not been cooperative, the chief said.
“He resigned before his opportunity to be cooperative,” Kraus said.
The chief said the department normally investigates officer-involved shootings with two separate but concurrent processes: an internal affairs investigation and a criminal investigation, with the criminal investigation taking precedence.
Fort Worth police confirmed they had taken Dean into custody but did not comment further on the arrest. The chief has said more information about the criminal investigation will be provided Tuesday.
The charge against Dean came less than two weeks after former Dallas police Officer Amber Guyger was convicted of murder for shooting Botham Jean in his apartment last year. Guyger, who said she believed that she was at her apartment and that he was an intruder, was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Lee Merritt, an attorney for Jefferson’s family, said that the murder charge against Dean was a “step in the right direction” and that he hoped the case would be prosecuted appropriately.
He and the family called for an independent investigation into the shooting at a news conference earlier Monday.
Ashley Carr, Jefferson’s oldest sister, said her sister had recently moved home to care for her mother, who was in declining health and remained hospitalized Monday.
The night she was killed, Jefferson was simply enjoying life in her home, “where no one would have expected her life to be in harm’s way, especially not at the hands of a civil servant who had taken the oath to serve and protect,” Carr said.
Relatives and their attorney, Lee Merritt, called for the federal government to investigate the shooting, citing the department’s recent record of officer-involved shootings. Since June 1, Fort Worth officers have killed six people, including Jefferson. One other person was wounded.
Merritt said the department was in need of “serious systematic reform.”
“I want to go ahead and dispel the myth that this is somehow a one-off — that this was just a bad-luck incident from an otherwise sound department,” he said. “The Fort Worth Police Department is on pace to be one of the deadliest police departments in the United States.”
Carr, reading a statement from the family, asked officials to follow the example of her sister’s character.
She asked the city to “be honorable when it comes to narrating the memory of this beautiful soul.”
“To have integrity and bring the federal government in to investigate,” she continued. “To be committed to a swift and appropriate prosecution. To serve the entire community of Fort Worth by training your officers to execute responses to appropriate situations.”
Activist Cory Hughes, who also spoke at the news conference, called for the officer who shot Jefferson to be “charged like the criminal that he is.”
“This life mattered. This family matters, and we’re demanding justice,” he said. “We’re not going to wait. We demand justice now.”
The department has submitted the case for a possible review by the FBI, which will accept or reject it based on a decision whether civil rights violations occurred.
The department stripped Dean of his badge and firearm Sunday, the same day it served him with a written administrative complaint in relation to the shooting.
If Dean had been fired, it would have been for violations of Fort Worth police policy on use of force, de-escalation and professional conduct, Kraus said.
“We received many calls from the community expressing their concerns and demands,” he said. “I assure you as chief for this department I share those concerns and I demand a thorough, transparent and speedy investigation. This will not be an opportunity for us to make excuses but rather to investigate this case to the fullest, to provide the justice we all seek for Atatiana.”
The department will continue its internal investigation as if Dean were still an officer, the chief said.
State law enforcement records show Dean’s most recent training was 40 hours of crisis intervention training in August. He became a full-time peace officer April 13. 2018, and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Arlington. No law enforcement history besides Fort Worth police is listed on his record.
It’s unclear whether Dean has an attorney. The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas said in a written statement that its legal team would represent the former officer.
Jefferson’s relatives emphasized their hope that the federal government or another outside organization would investigate the shooting.
Adarius Carr, Jefferson’s brother, told reporters that his 12 years of service in the Navy had shown him that someone who fails to follow procedures needs to face consequences.
“I’ve been trained and taught that there are preplanned responses to everything you do,” he said. “When you don’t do it the way you’ve been trained, the way you’ve been taught, you have to answer for that.”
“This man murdered someone,” he said.
Kraus said the Texas Rangers are not in an ideal position to take over the investigation because they would be doing so late in the process.
City Manager David Cooke said the city is on track to consider candidates in November for a police monitor position, as previously recommended by a city task force. The city is also reaching out to national experts to form a third-party panel that will review police policies and training, Cooke said.
The chief was asked what he says to people who say cases like Jefferson’s are the reason they don’t trust Fort Worth police.
“I tell them I get it,” Kraus said. “Nobody looked at that video and said there’s any doubt that this officer acted inappropriately. I get it.”
He said the department wants to ensure that its officers are better trained and that they act the way citizens expect — “with a servant’s heart, rather than a warrior’s heart,” he said.
Gov. Greg Abbott tweeted a link to a Dallas Morning News column about the shooting. He shared the headline: “The outrageous death of Atatiana Jefferson: What was Fort Worth cop possibly thinking when he shot?”
“That’s the key question,” he said in the post.
On Sunday, police said Dean never identified himself as a police officer before he shot Jefferson through a bedroom window. Her 8-year-old nephew, with whom Jefferson had been playing a video game late into the night, was in the room when she was shot. Jefferson died at the scene.
The nephew saw his aunt fall to the floor after she was shot, the family’s attorney said Monday. The boy will begin to undergo counseling this week.
The boy’s mother and one of Jefferson’s older sisters, Amber Carr, said the child has been helping her stay strong since the shooting.
“In the middle of the night when I’m crying, he wakes up and tells me to breathe in my nose and out my mouth. He holds me, he hugs me,” Amber Carr said. “These are the things that I should be doing for him, but he’s not reacting in that manner.”
Amber Carr described Jefferson as a doting aunt to her nephews — sometimes people assumed they were Jefferson’s sons.
Police were called about 2:30 a.m. to Jefferson’s mother’s home in the 1200 block of East Allen Avenue after a neighbor, James Smith, called a police non-emergency line to report that the doors to the home were open and all the lights were on.
Kraus said that though Jefferson’s neighbor called a non-emergency number to ask for a welfare check at her home, the officers were not aware of that fact.
The responding officers received information from dispatch about an “open structure” call, which Kraus said requires a more heightened response than a welfare check.
Kraus said officers will typically park down the street and approach with caution when responding to open structure calls. It would be normal for officers to announce themselves on a welfare check, but not if they thought the incident might involve a criminal situation, he said.
Two officers were dispatched to the scene. Body-cam footage shows the officers in the backyard of the home before Dean spins toward a window, shouts at Jefferson to put up her hands and then shoots her through a window — all in a matter of seconds.
Police also released a still image of a firearm found in the home where Jefferson was shot. Merritt, the family’s attorney, said that the firearm was legally owned and that Jefferson had a license to carry it.
He criticized the department for releasing the image without context and said it insinuated a “bad act or blame” on Jefferson’s part.
Kraus, the police chief, said that in hindsight, releasing the image of the gun wasn’t the right call.
Mayor Betsy Price, speaking at the police news conference Monday afternoon, said the gun was irrelevant.
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