On Friday, Tarrant County indicted a former Ft. Worth police officer for the murder of Atatania Jefferson. This particular incident — which occurred in October — elicited widespread outrage at the conduct of the police officers involved.
Aaron Dean, 34, was one of the officers who responded to a call for a welfare check on October 12 at Jefferson’s home. One of the victim’s neighbors made the call when he noticed that her front door was left ajar around 1am.
Upon arriving, officers searched the perimeter of the home when Dean saw Jefferson through a window. She had been playing with her 8-year-old nephew. The officer claimed that he “perceived a threat” and fired his weapon at Jefferson who was standing inside the house. She died shortly after.
After the indictment was announced, S. Lee Merritt, the Jefferson family’s attorney, stated that they were “relieved” by the news. He indicated that they are “cautiously optimistic that a conviction and appropriate sentence will come in the near future.”
The department relased the bodycam footage of the incident “to provide transparent and relevant information to the public as we are allowed within the confines of the investigation.” The video depicts Dean firing his weapon a split second after telling Jefferson to raise her hands. The officers never identified themselves when they arrived at the house.
The neighbor who called for the welfare check told Fox 4 that the officers did not announce their presence or knock on the door when they arrived at Jefferson’s home. “When I made that non-emergency call, I didn’t say it was a burglary,” he said. “I didn’t say it was people fighting. I didn’t say anything to make them have a gun. All they needed to do is ring the doorbell.”
This incident occurred only weeks after Amber Guyger — another former police officer — was sentenced to ten years for killing Botham Jean in his apartment. Both of these occurrences reignited the debate over the shooting of black Americans by police officers. Regardless of where one stands on the extent to which race influences these incidents, Jefferson’s killing is an example of how the police — who work with the government — must be held accountable when someone loses their lives due to their actions.
In this instance, the officers did not give Jefferson much of a chance for survival; they failed to identify themselves or even let her know they were present. Some accounts indicate that she had her gun in her hand when Dean shot her.
She likely grabbed it when she heard a noise in her backyard and did what any responsible gun owner would do: She prepared to defend herself and her nephew. The police could have avoided the situation by letting her know they were there. As the neighbor stated, he gave them no reason to believe their lives would be in danger when he made the call.
Was this shooting racially-motivated? Not likely. There is absolutely no evidence suggesting that Dean shot Jefferson because of her skin color. In this case, it appears to have been mishaps on the part of the police that cost this woman her life. And for that, accountability is warranted.
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