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Fort Worth police shooting brings training to light

Officer charged with murder after woman shot, killed in her Texas home

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Controversy over an officer's fatal shooting of a woman in her home in Texas has once again ignited talks about police and community relations.

The Fort Worth Police Department said 34-year-old Officer Aaron Dean fired a single bullet through the window of 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson's home in Fort Worth, Texas, early Saturday while investigating a neighbor's report about the front door being left open at Atatiana Jefferson's home. She was shot to death.

Dean was arrested Monday on a murder charge. He was released from jail on $200,000 bail less than four hours after his arrest. He resigned Monday before his arrest; the chief said he would have been fired if he hadn't quit. Police also referred the case to the FBI for possible federal civil rights charges.

Police bodycam video showed Dean making his way around the side of the house into the backyard in the darkness and opening fire a split second after shouting at Atatiana Jefferson to show her hands. He did not identify himself as a police officer.

“Put your hands up, show me your hands!” the officer can be heard saying in the video, seconds before firing.

VIDEO: Bodycam shows fatal police shooting of Texas woman
Warning: This footage contains graphic content.

In an arrest warrant, Atatiana Jefferson's nephew said his aunt had pulled a gun from her purse and pointed it at a bedroom window after hearing suspicious noises outside. Police quickly released a screenshot of the body camera footage, showing a gun in the home.

"We feel and understand your anger and disappointment," said Sgt. Chris Daniels, a spokesman for the Police Department.

The arrest warrant notes that the other officer at the scene told authorities she could see only Atatiana Jefferson's face through the window when Dean fired. Dean's own bodycam video showed that the view through the window was obstructed by the reflection from his flashlight. 

“The officer saw a gun and overreacted to the presence of a firearm,” said Eric Friday, a constitutional attorney based in Jacksonville. “And that’s not acceptable.”

Friday, a gun rights lawyer who represents the group Florida Carry, said he thinks some officers don’t respect Second Amendment rights. He also said many officers are trained to perceive threats that don’t actually exist.

“I think that’s shown by the initial press release, which said this person had a gun in the house,” he told the News4Jax I-TEAM. “Well, that’s irrelevant. Unless she’s a criminal, she has the right to have a gun in her house.”

News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson added, "He didn't give her an opportunity to react."

"He just shot after about two seconds," he said.

Ken Jefferson, who was police officer for two decades, said this is a tragic example of what can go wrong responding to a call, especially when officers don’t follow their training and instincts.

“Officers should be balanced enough to know that when you go on a call like this, you see movement, you don’t just shoot,” he said.

Ken Jefferson said agency leaders across the country should use this as an example in training.

“Don’t react so fast. Protect yourself first of all. But don’t react so fast," he said. "Give it time if you can because officers have seconds to make a decision sometimes, and we have days, months and years to judge it."

Police Department Interim Chief Ed Kraus said Atatiana Jefferson behaved as any Texas homeowner would have if he or she had heard a prowler. Also, the arrest warrant gave no indication that Dean would have even been able to see the weapon through the glass.

Kraus declared there was "absolutely no excuse'' for the shooting, which happened while Jefferson was staying up late playing video games with her nephew.

About the Author:

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.