Cop Who Killed Atatiana Jefferson at Home Spared Murder Conviction

A North Texas jury on Thursday found Aaron Dean guilty of manslaughter in the death of Atatiana Jefferson, concluding a long-awaited trial to determine whether the former Fort Worth cop was justified in firing his gun during a welfare check that went awry.The jury, which was made up of eight men and six women, reached

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A North Texas jury on Thursday found Aaron Dean guilty of manslaughter in the death of Atatiana Jefferson, concluding a long-awaited trial to determine whether the former Fort Worth cop was justified in firing his gun during a welfare check that went awry.

The jury, which was made up of eight men and six women, reached their decision after two days of deliberations. They were tasked with deciding whether Dean was guilty of murder, manslaughter, or innocent all together. None of the jurors were Black.

Dean, who faces between two and 2o years in prison, will have a sentencing hearing Friday at 8:30 a.m. Loved ones of Jefferson appeared upset after the verdict was read, with one person being scolded by the Texas judge for yelling, and others breaking down in anger outside the courtroom.

Jefferson, a 28-year-old Black woman, was gunned down by Dean, a white man, through a bedroom window after the officer circled her home on Oct. 13, 2019.

Dean and another Fort Worth officer were at Jefferson’s home for a welfare check after her neighbor alerted police that her house’s doors had been left open.

A mourner pays respects before the start of the funeral service for Atatiana Jefferson on October 24, 2019, at Concord Church in Dallas, Texas.

Stewart F. House/Getty Images

Footage of the incident was captured on Dean’s body camera. The officer never announced himself as a cop when he arrived, and he fired at Jefferson almost immediately after spotting her through a window.

“Put your hands up,” Dean yelled, “I want to see your hands!”

A single gunshot followed about a second later.

That bodycam footage was played on the second day of Dean’s trial and featured prominently throughout the proceedings.

Defense attorneys argued it was reasonable for Dean to perceive a threat there because Jefferson was holding a gun. Prosecutors insisted that the speed at which Dean fired—and his initial lack of aid to Jefferson as she fought for her life—was proof that he intended to kill her when he opened fire.

Debate also surrounded the testimony of Jefferson’s nephew and whether he saw his aunt point a gun at Dean or not.

Jefferson’s nephew, Zion Carr, told officers after the shooting that he’d been hanging out with his aunt playing video games when she heard a noise outside. She reacted by grabbing and pointing a gun up “a little bit” before she was gunned down herself, Fort Worth police said.

When Carr testified on the trial’s first day, however, the 11-year-old claimed that’s not what happened. He said the doors and windows were open because his family was trying to clear smoke out after cooking hamburgers. He said Jefferson had a gun in her hand but it was pointed down when Dean shot her.

“Just held it next to her side, she just like, she didn’t point it up, she just kept it next to her,” the boy testified.

Assistant District Attorney Ashlea Deener said that Carr’s testimony on Dec. 5 likely explains why Dean was heard yelling “put your hands up” on the bodycam as opposed to ordering her to put a gun down.

Deener also argued that Jefferson only had a gun in her hand because she believed the officers were intruders. Dean opened fire without giving her time to comply with commands—so fast, it wasn’t possible for Dean to even see the gun Jefferson was holding, Deener said.

“The evidence will support, he did not see the gun in her hands,” the prosecutor said.

Dean’s defense attorney, Miles Brissette, said Dean arrived at the home believing that he should investigate as if a robbery was taking place. Prosecutors called on an expert who testified that Dean’s handling of the call—even before the shot was fired—was “problematic,” and that he should’ve stayed at Jefferson’s front door instead of entering a gate to circle the home.

Brissette argued that Dean had his handgun at the ready because he thought the home was being actively robbed. Dean testified the home appeared to have been “ransacked,” with all of the kitchen’s drawers and cabinets open as if someone was searching for valuables to swipe.

Brissette said Dean opened fire only after spotting a silhouette of Jefferson with a gun in the window, with a green laser sight pointed at him. Dean wiped away tears as he recalled the incident in his testimony.

Aaron Dean reacts on the stand while testifying on Monday in Fort Worth, Texas.

Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Getty Images

“I was shouting at this time, shouting commands, ‘Put up your hands, show me your hands, show me your hands,’” Dean said. “And as I started to get that second phrase out, ‘Show me your hands,’ I saw the silhouette, I was looking right down the barrel of a gun. And when I saw that barrel of that gun pointed at me, I fired a single shot from my duty weapon.”

Dean said he saw the gun pointed at him but couldn’t determine if the person holding it was “black, white, male, female” because it was so dark. He recalls firing once, hearing a scream and then seeing a person collapse to the floor.

When pressed by prosecutors to grade his police work from the night, Dean said he’d give himself a B, despite conceding there were things he “could have done better.”

The jury’s decision came more than three years after Jefferson’s death. The trial was delayed by a combination of attorney wrangling, the terminal illness of Dean’s former lead defense attorney—who died on the eve of jury selection—and the coronavirus pandemic.

Just after the shooting, protests erupted in North Texas and across the country, with thousands calling for justice and Dean’s arrest—foreshadowing the social justice protests that swept the world the following summer after George Floyd’s murder.

With mounting public pressure, Fort Worth police quickly released the bodycam footage of the incident and arrested Dean, who was 34 at the time, just after he’d resigned from the force.

Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus said he had intended to fire Dean but the officer called it quits before he was able to officially. The acting chief added at the time that Dean was not cooperating with cops during their investigation.

“Nobody looked at that video and said there’s any doubt this officer acted inappropriately,” Kraus said in 2019.

Fort Worth’s mayor, Betsy Price, said at the time that Jefferson’s possession of a gun was “irrelevant” and that the circumstances were “unthinkable.” Even Greg Abbott, Texas’ gun-loving governor, questioned what Dean could have been thinking in a tweet.

Dean’s defense pointed to the comments from the mayor and chief in a motion to hold Dean’s trial outside of Tarrant County and Fort Worth, but District Judge George Gallagher denied the motion on the trial’s opening day.

Neither of Jefferson’s parents were alive to see Dean’s verdict. Both died within three months of her killing from natural causes, but friends and family chalked their deaths up to a “broken heart.”

Jefferson, a graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana, was survived by her two sisters and brother.

One of Jefferson’s sisters, Ashley Carr, told the Dallas Morning News in 2019 that the nature of Jefferson’s death made it all-the-more heartbreaking, adding that she was killed “where no one would have expected her life to be in harm’s way.”

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