Atatiana Jefferson: Former Fort Worth police officer did not see gun in her hand before firing, prosecutor argues


The former Fort Worth police officer who fatally shot 28-year-old Atiana Jefferson in her home in 2019 didn’t see her holding a gun for a split second before shooting at her through a rear window, prosecutors said in his opening statements. The murder trial on Monday.

“This is not a situation where they’re staring down the barrel of a gun and he had to protect himself from this person or protect his partner,” said Tarrant County Prosecutor Ashley Diener. “The evidence will support that he did not see the gun in her hand. This is not justification. This is not a case of self-defense. This is murder.”

However, former police officer Aaron Dean’s defense attorney said he saw a silhouette armed with a green laser pointed at him and later found a firearm lying next to Jefferson’s body.

“In that window he sees a silhouette,” said attorney Miles Brissett. “He doesn’t know if it’s male or female, he doesn’t know the racial makeup of the silhouette. He sees it, he sees the green laser and the gun pointing at him. He takes half a step back, gives an order and fires his weapon.”

The conflicting opening statements come at the start of a trial that will include fraught issues of race, police brutality, gun rights and body camera footage.

Dean, who is White, pleaded not guilty to murder for killing Jefferson, who is Black, after he shot into her home in October 2019 in front of her young nephew. The charge carries a possible sentence of 5 to 99 years.

Aaron Dean pleaded not guilty to murder in court on Monday, December 5th.

The shooting occurred after police responded to Jefferson’s home around 2:25 a.m. on October 12, 2019, in response to a neighbor who reported her doors open in the middle of the night. The neighbor called a non-emergency police number to request a safety check at Jefferson’s home.

Diener, the prosecutor, emphasized that Dean and his partner did not identify themselves as police officers at any point when they searched Jefferson’s house. Jefferson pulled out her gun because she heard noises outside and saw a flashlight in her backyard.

“She had no idea this was someone who was supposed to serve and protect,” Diener said.

Brisett, the defense attorney, said the officers were treating the situation as a potential robbery in progress and not, as previously reported, a welfare check, which is why they did not announce their presence. He described the shooting as a “tragic accident” but one that was “reasonable” for a person in Dean’s position.

Heavily edited body camera footage released to the public showed an officer peering through two open doors, but he did not knock or announce his presence. Instead, he walked around the house for about a minute. Eventually, the officer went to the window and shined a flashlight into what appeared to be a dark room.

“Raise your hands! Show me your hands!” The officer shouted before firing a single shot, according to body camera footage.

Zion Carr, 11, testified in court Monday that his aunt Atania Jefferson heard a noise outside and so pulled a gun from her purse moments before she was killed.

The prosecution’s first witness was Zion Carr, who was 8 years old, in the bedroom with his “Aunt Ty” when she was shot.

Now 11, he testified that they accidentally burned hamburgers earlier in the night, so they opened the doors to ventilate the smoke from the house.

He and his aunt were up late playing video games when Jefferson heard a commotion outside, and she went to her purse to get her gun, he testified. He did not see her raise her weapon toward the window, he testified.

Zion said he didn’t hear or see anything outside the window, but he saw his aunt fall to the ground and start crying.

“I thought, ‘Is this a dream?'” he testified. “She was crying and just shaking.”

He was confused by what happened and only later learned that his aunt had been killed. “I was very upset,” he said.

The prosecutors stated before the court that part of his testimony differed from a previous statement he gave to a police investigator. In cross-examination, Zion said he did not remember that previous statement.

Zion suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, Merritt said.

The trial is expected to last about two weeks, and Judge George Gallagher issued a gag order. Monday’s court day will be cut short so people can attend the funeral of lead attorney Jim Lane, who died suddenly in late November.

The shooting was widely condemned, with the National Black Police Association saying in a statement that the killings of black civilians by white officers had “reached critical mass.”

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said at the time that Jefferson’s killing was unjustified and “unacceptable.”

Police initially said the officer fired his gun after he “perceived a threat.” The officers provided medical treatment after the shooting, according to police.

Police said officers found a firearm when they entered the room where Jefferson died. Video released by police showed two mostly blurry sections of what appeared to be a firearm inside the home.

Dean, 34 at the time of the shooting, was hired in August 2017 and commissioned as a licensed officer in April 2018, police said.

Two days after the shooting, Dean resigned from the police force and was arrested and charged with murder, the crime for which he was charged in December 2019.

A day after Dean’s arrest, Lane told CNN His client is “sorry and his family is in shock.”

Jefferson was trying to protect her nephew from what they both thought was a wanderer, according to a lawyer for Jefferson’s family.

She had moved into her ailing mother’s home in Fort Worth a few months earlier to care for her, the family’s attorney S. Lee Merritt said at the time. She also took care of her nephews.

Jefferson graduated from Xavier University in Louisiana in 2014 with a degree in biology and worked in pharmaceutical equipment sales, according to her family’s attorney.

The precocious graduate, known as “Tay”, was eulogized as a loving, caring and reliable aunt who achieved many things in life.

Since her death, family members said they have struggled to watch videos of other police killings.

Jefferson’s father, Marquis Jefferson, suffered a cardiac arrest and died in November 2019, just weeks after Dean fatally shot his daughter. He was 59 years old.

Jefferson’s mother, Yolanda Carr, died at her home in Fort Worth in January 2020 after falling ill, according to Merritt. Carr was ill and could not attend her daughter’s funeral.

Instead, Rev. Jaime Kaulser read a letter from Carr at the service.

“You’ve often said you’re going to change the world,” Carr wrote. “I think you’ll still make it.”


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