The white Fort Worth police officer who shot and killed a 28-year-old black woman in her own home this weekend resigned Monday — before he could be interviewed by the police department.
At a press conference Monday, Fort Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus said that he had intended to fire the officer, Aaron Dean, but Dean resigned before that could happen. Kraus did not provide Dean’s age but said that he had been with the department since 2018.
“Had the officer not resigned, I would have fired him for violations for several policies, including our use of force policy, our de-escalation policy, and unprofessional conduct,” Kraus said.
Dean was responding to a welfare call with another officer when he fatally shot Atatiana Jefferson through the window of her home. Jefferson had been playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew late into the night. The child was present in the bedroom where his aunt was fatally shot.
Kraus said that Dean was not being “cooperative” with the interview process and that he tendered his resignation before police could interview him as part of their investigation.
The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT) said in a statement that it will "take the facts where they exist" and provide "legal defense" for Dean. The union said it "has responded to 87 officer involved shootings so far in 2019."
Jefferson’s family on Monday urged the police department to recuse itself from investigating the shooting and called for an independent third-party investigation.
Dean graduated from the Fort Worth Police Academy two years ago and was commissioned as an officer last April. A Facebook video of the ceremony shows Dean at his ceremony, shaking hands with leaders and holding a certificate. The 35-year-old graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington, where he studied English and journalism, in 2011, according to public records.
However, Kraus said that his department would continue with both the criminal and internal affairs investigations into the shooting. He did not address possible criminal charges for the officer during Monday’s news conference.
The police chief said he has asked the FBI to review the case for possible civil rights violations.
“I certainly cannot make sense of why she had to lose her life,” Kraus said. “I’m so sorry for what occurred.”
In an earlier press conference Monday, Jefferson’s family, along with civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, questioned why the officer had not yet been arrested.
“This man murdered someone,” Darius Carr, Jefferson’s brother, said. “He should be arrested.”
The family called for the Justice Department to take over the investigation into the shooting, declaring the Fort Worth Police Department “incompetent” to investigate one of its own officers.
Merritt said that the family expected the officer to be criminally charged, “vigorously prosecuted, and appropriately sentenced.”
The Fort Worth Police Department is “one of the deadliest police departments” in the country, Merritt said, adding there was a need for “serious, systematic reform.”
The department has come under fire for a spate of officer-involved shootings this year.
In June, officers shot and killed 20-year-old JaQuavion Slaton, who was armed, after he ran from police. His death, which sparked protests, was one of four shootings by Fort Worth police that month. City Council members hosted a community town hall about the rash of shootings and many residents expressed their frustration with and distrust of the department.
In August, police shot and killed 18-year-old Amari Malone after he ran from and pointed a gun at them. Merritt, the civil rights attorney involved in several high-profile police shootings, criticized the time it took to get Malone to the hospital.
Malone’s shooting was the sixth time since June 1 that a Fort Worth police officer shot a resident, the Star-Telegram newspaper reported. Five of those struck later died.
The police department officially reported one officer-involved shooting in 2018, which resulted in the death of a 60-year-old Latino man who allegedly brandished a weapon. The department submitted five reports in 2017 and 10 in 2016.
On Saturday, officers arrived at Jefferson’s house after her neighbor, James Smith, used a nonemergency police line to request a check on her residence after becoming concerned that both of the front doors were open and lights on.
The officers did not park their car in front of the house, knock on Jefferson’s door, or identify themselves during the incident. Body camera footage released by police showed the officers looking around the property in the dark, opening a gate, and going into Jefferson’s backyard.
Within seconds of entering the backyard, video showed Dean peering through a window in which he saw Jefferson. The officer then raised his gun and shouted “put your hands up, show me your hands,” before firing a shot — all in less than four seconds.
While police did not release footage of what happened after Dean fired the shot, the department distributed a photo of a gun inside Jefferson’s home, prompting backlash from her family and advocates who accused the police of trying to blame the victim.
The gun was located “just inside the window” where she was shot, Kraus, the police chief, said.
Responding to the criticism Monday, Kraus said that the department had released similar images in the past to show that “a weapon was involved” and to include what might be “a perceived threat” to police.
“In hindsight, it was a bad thing to do,” Kraus said.
Jefferson was licensed to own and carry the gun, Merritt said.
Jefferson’s oldest sister, Ashley Carr, described her as a “smart, ambitious, and kind person with a nurturing spirit.”
A pre-med graduate of Xavier University, Jefferson was “committed to furthering her education,” Carr said. She had moved into their mother’s home to take care of her as her health had declined. Her mother was in the hospital at the time of the shooting, she said.
Jefferson’s relationship with her nephew, Zion, was “undescribable,” his mother and Jefferson’s other sister, Amber Carr, said Monday.
Zion and his “auntie Tay” as Jefferson was affectionately known, were playing the video game, Call of Duty, for several hours starting Friday evening. Jefferson had left both her front doors open to let a cool fall breeze into the house, Merritt said. The two lost track of time and continued playing the game late into the night when they heard someone “prowling around in the bushes,” Merritt said.
He said that Jefferson went to the window to see what was happening when she was shot by the officer.
“What would have happened if that little boy had gone to the window instead of his auntie?” Merritt said.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price apologized to Jefferson’s family and the community on Monday, saying, “Nothing could justify what happened on Saturday morning.”
Price said that the gun found in Jefferson’s home was “irrelevant.”
The city was planning to convene a third-party panel of national police experts to review the actions by the Fort Worth Police Department.