Nation & World

Murder charge follows resignation of Fort Worth officer who shot woman in her home

A Fort Worth police officer was arrested and charged with murder in the shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson on Monday evening, hours after he resigned.

Aaron York Dean, 34, of Arlington, resigned from the Fort Worth Police Department on Monday morning. Early Saturday morning, he shot and killed Jefferson, 28, inside her home while responding to a call from a neighbor about doors at the house being open, police said.

Dean was arrested at about 6 p.m., police said at a news conference Monday night. He was booked in the Tarrant County Jail and released on bail later Monday night, according to records. Police said the investigation is continuing and another press conference will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Jefferson’s family’s attorney, S. Lee Merritt, wrote on Twitter that “the family of Atatiana Jefferson is relieved that Aaron Dean has been arrested & charged with murder. We need to see this through to a vigorous prosecution & appropriate sentencing. The City of Fort Worth has much work to do to reform a brutal culture of policing.”

At a press conference Monday afternoon, Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus identified Dean — who had served about 18 months with the department — as the officer who shot Jefferson. Kraus said he was going to fire Dean had he not resigned Monday morning.

The FBI has been briefed to investigate possible civil rights violations, he said.

Kraus said his intention was to fire the officer for violating policies, including the use-of-force policy.

Kraus said Dean has not cooperated with the investigation and has not answered questions from investigators. Dean could not be reached for comment Monday before his arrest.

Dean, who is white, is charged with killing Jefferson, a black woman, at her home in the 1200 block of East Allen Avenue at about 2:30 a.m. Saturday. Her neighbor had called a non-emergency police number to request a welfare check at the house.

Dean resigned in a one-sentence letter, according to the Associated Press. The letter said: “Effective immediately I am tendering my resignation from the Fort Worth Police Department.” The letter was released by the state’s largest police union, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas.

The group’s executive director, Charley Wilkison, said Dean had not yet hired an attorney but that one will be provided with financial support from the union.

Dean posted on his Facebook page that he started working at the Fort Worth Police Department on April 13, 2018. On May 10, 2018, he posted a photo in his police uniform.

“Rookie life. . . waiting on the ME,” the post said.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said Jefferson’s death at the hands of a Fort Worth police officer is not justified.

“Atatiana was an amazing, smart woman who was unjustly taken from her family,” she said. “I cannot imagine anything worse and I am so sorry ... there is nothing that can justify what happened.”

Price further commented on the photos police released of a gun found in Jefferson’s home. She said the gun was irrelevant and that Jefferson had a right to have a gun in her home.

Police have previously released images of weapons after other shootings to show that officers perceived a threat. But in this case, Kraus acknowledged that it was a mistake to release images of the gun and said “in hindsight, it was a bad thing to do.”

Kraus said Monday afternoon that the police department had reached out to the Texas Rangers to discuss the possibility of the state law enforcement agency investigating the shooting, but nothing had been finalized. It is late in the process for them to come in and conduct an investigation, Kraus said.

Kraus also said that he had forwarded information to officials with the FBI. They had not responded with an answer about investigating the case as of Monday.

Chief: Officer faced firing

Dean was served a personnel complaint on Sunday, then placed on detached duty and stripped of his badge and firearm, Kraus said.

“I intended to meet with him this morning to terminate his employment with the Fort Worth Police Department; however, the officer tendered his resignation before I could meet with him,” Kraus said.

While Dean no longer works for the city, the administrative investigation will continue as if he were still employed.

“Had the officer not resigned, I would have fired him for violations of several policies, including the use of deadly force, failure to de-escalate and unprofessional conduct,” Kraus said.

A statement outlining the reasons for Dean’s firing will be included with the investigation to serve as written record of that determination, Kraus said.

“Additionally, the separation paperwork will be sent to the state’s licensing authority, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, and will reflect that he was dishonorably discharged from employment,” Kraus said.

Dean was hired by the department on Aug. 21, 2017, and commissioned as a licensed peace officer on April 13, 2018.

Dean had not worked at any other police department, according to a status report from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement.

Dean completed training at the Fort Worth Police Academy on March 8, 2018, according to the records obtained by the Star-Telegram.

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From September 2017 to August 2019, Dean took 30 courses at the academy. His most recent training course was crisis intervention training on Aug. 9, according to records.

Other courses included defensive tactics, conflict resolution, active shooter response, peace officer field training and community relations.

As of August, Dean had 2,860 hours of training, 1,451 of which were from courses at the police academy. The rest of the hours were obtained from UT Arlington in 2003.

Review of police procedures

City Manager David Cooke said the city will convene an outside group to review Fort Worth police policies and training practices.

Cooke said city officials are reaching out to experts in the field and once they finalize the plan, they will present that to the City Council in the next few weeks.

Cooke revealed that a panel of three nationwide experts will be gathered to take a hard look at police department training, de-escalation and use-of-force policies. This will be separate from a police monitor, who is also being sought.

The panel of three experts is expected to review police procedure and policy and make recommendations to the City Council as to what powers the monitor and the people the monitor will supervise should possess.

Asked what he would tell residents who don’t trust police, Kraus said: “I tell them I get it. No one looked at that video and thought there’s no doubt this officer acted inappropriately.”

More training for officers is needed and will be done, he said.

“Most officers I have encountered over the last couple of days have said, ‘Chief, this is not how we operate,’” he said.

What happened

According to dispatch audio released by the department on Monday, officers were told, “complainant advised the front door to this address is open, both neighbor’s vehicles are in the driveway, white sedan and dark colored sedan.”

About seven minutes later a female officer gets on the radio and says “shots fired.” A male officer, presumably Dean, then got on the radio and said “shots fired, shots fired, start a supervisor.” The female officer then clarifies that the other officer fired his weapon.

The other officer who was with Dean is being treated as a witness to the shooting, Kraus says.

Jefferson was playing Call of Duty with her 8-year-old nephew in their home, according to an attorney hired to represent her family, when she heard a noise outside and looked out of her window.

Body camera footage of the shooting shows two officers using flashlights to check the perimeter of the house, inspecting two doors that are open with closed screen doors. At the back of house, Dean appears to see a figure through a dark window, and he quickly twists his body to the left.

“Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” he shouts through the window, his gun drawn. He then fires a single shot through the window, killing Jefferson.

‘A change moment’

Bob Ray Sanders, co-chair for the city’s race and justice task force, said after the press conference that this shooting represents “a change moment” for Fort Worth.

Sanders, who is also a former Star-Telegram columnist, said he has been tracking the actions of the police department in Fort Worth for 40 years, and he’s never heard city officials say the things that he heard them say Monday.

“Believe me, I’ve never seen the Police Officers Association condemn a police officer,” Sanders said. “In the 40 years that I’ve been paying attention to the police association, they don’t say anything bad about another officer.

“And because the police association supports city council members, very few city council members criticize the police force. Up until this year, this city doesn’t do that. But today they did it and I’ve got to give them credit. Today they stepped up and did it.”

Manny Ramirez, the president of the Fort Worth Police Officers Association, said the shooting was tragic and he wants there to be a full, thorough and transparent investigation. Any path forward must be collaborative, Ramirez said.

“We’ve had some failures here that must be addressed,” Ramirez said. “This should never have happened.”

Jefferson was a biology major at Xavier University in New Orleans. She was considering going back to med school and had moved home to help her mother, who was having health problems, her family said.

Leaders and community activists called for accountability and police reform after Saturday’s shooting.

S. Lee Merritt, the family’s attorney, said Jefferson’s death is another example of excessive use of police force in Fort Worth.

According to police, there have been nine officer-involved shootings this year in Fort Worth as of Oct. 14. One resulted in injury and six, all of which occurred after June 1, resulted in death. Two shootings resulted in no injury, according to police. Two Hispanic men, two white men, four black men and one black woman have been shot by police.

As of Oct. 14 last year, there were eight officer-involved shootings and 10 total in 2018. Four people died and six were injured, police said. Police shot one Hispanic man, five white men, three black men and one black woman, according to police records.

This story includes material from Star-Telegram archives.

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Mitch Mitchell is an award-winning reporter covering courts and crime for the Star-Telegram. Additionally, Mitch’s past coverage on municipal government, healthcare and social services beats allow him to bring experience and context to the stories he writes.
Nichole Manna is an investigative reporter for the Star-Telegram. Before moving to Fort Worth in July 2018, she covered crime and breaking news in Tennessee, North Carolina, Nebraska and Kansas. She is a 2012 graduate of Middle Tennessee State University and grew up in Florida.