Fort Worth, TX – The call that Fort Worth Police Officer Aaron Dean responded to the night he fatally shot Atatiana Jefferson was dispatched as a potential burglary report – not as a welfare check like her neighbor intended.
“The information came from the neighbor to the call-takers and while it was relayed to the dispatch, it was determined to be an open structure call,” Fort Worth Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus explained during a press conference on Tuesday, according to CNN.
As a result, the officers responded to the call differently than they would have if the call would have been dispatched as a welfare check.
Phoenix Law Enforcement Association President Michael “Britt” London said that officers approach “open structure” calls more cautiously due to the wide array of scenarios that could lead to such a call being made, CNN reported.
“You are at a higher sensitivity to what is going on with that house,” London told the news outlet. “You have to be ready for anything. You are taking more of your environment in consideration to be ready for a surprise if there’s one.”
Officers generally consider the possibility of burglary when handling such calls, CNN reported.
But retired Fort Worth Police chief Jeff Halstead argued that there was no evidence that anyone had forced entry into Jefferson’s home.
“They were standing literally at the front door, they could see whether the door was kicked on or not,” Halstead told CNN. “Why they advanced to an extremely dark backyard area without at least ringing the doorbell or checking the entrance? That’s extremely concerning.”
The former police chief said that the now-former officer’s lack of experience could have negatively affected his response.
“Some officers, younger officers, think every call is an extreme risk or high-profile call,” Halstead told CNN. “With seniority, maturity, experience, you can customize your mindset in approaching a lot of different calls.”
According to court documents released on Tuesday, Jefferson’s eight-year-old nephew told investigators about what he witnessed the night she was killed, KXAS reported.
The boy and his aunt were playing video games inside their home when they suddenly “heard noises coming from outside,” he told police, according to an arrest warrant.
Jefferson then retrieved a handgun from her purse and “pointed it toward the window,” at which point she “was shot and fell to the ground,” KXAS reported.
The incident began at approximately 2:25 a.m. on Saturday, when Fort Worth police received a call from Jefferson’s neighbor, James Smith, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
Smith told the non-emergency dispatcher that he noticed that his neighbor’s doors were open and their lights were still on, which was unusual for that time of night.
He said that Jefferson lived at the East Allen Avenue home with her eight-year-old nephew.
Bodycam footage showed the officers as they checked on two open doors. They then made their way down a driveway to the back portion of the residence.
Dean opened a gate and came upon a darkened window to his right, the video showed.
“Put your hands up!” he suddenly ordered, with his duty weapon and flashlight pointed at the window. “Show me your hands!”
He then fired a single round, fatally wounding Jefferson, who died at the scene, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.
“Perceiving a threat, the officer drew his duty weapon and fired one shot striking the person inside the residence,” the FWPD in a news release. “Officers entered the residence locating the individual and a firearm and began providing emergency medical care.”
Jefferson’s family said that she was inside playing video games with her nephew when they heard someone outside, according to their attorney, Lee Merritt.
The officer did not announce himself as law enforcement, bodycam footage showed.
When Jefferson peeked out the window to see who might be out there, she was shot, Merritt said, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
It’s also unclear if she would have had any way to know that it was a police officer who was confronting her.
During a press conference on Monday afternoon, Price blasted the FWPD for releasing images of the gun located in Jefferson’s home.
“The gun is irrelevant,” Price said. “She was in her own home… Atatiana was a victim.”
Chief Kraus said he hasn’t been able to “make sense” of the officer’s decision to discharge his duty weapon.
“Nobody looked at that video and said that there’s any doubt that this officer acted inappropriately,” the chief told reporters. “I get it. We’re trying to train our officers better. We’re trying to shore up our policies, and we’re trying to ensure that they act and react the way that the citizens intend them to… with a servant’s heart instead of a warrior’s heart.”
Chief Kraus said that, “in hindsight,” releasing photographs of the firearm in Jefferson’s home “was a bad thing to do,” and that such images are generally released in order to show any “perceived threat” officers encountered.
“I think it was to show that there was a weapon involved, however, we’re homeowners in the State of Texas,” he added. “I can’t imagine most of us – if we thought we had somebody outside our house that shouldn’t be [and] we had access to that firearm – that we wouldn’t act very similarly to how she acted.”
Dean, who was hired by the FWPD in August of 2017, was placed on administrative leave on Sunday.
The 34-year-old officer resigned from the force on Monday.
“My intent was to meet with him today to terminate his employment with the Fort Worth Police Department, however, the officer tendered his resignation this morning before we met,” Chief Kraus said. “Even though he no longer works for the city, we continue the administrative investigation as if he did.”
Had he not resigned, Chief Kraus said he would have fired the officer “for violations of several policies,” to include the FWPD’s use-of-force, de-escalation, and unprofessional conduct policies.
Dean was arrested for murder at approximately 6 p.m. on the day he resigned, The Dallas Morning News reported.
He was taken to the Tarrant County Jail on $200,000 bond and was released after posting bail approximately three hours later, according to CNN.
Dean’s attorney, Jim Lane, called the officer-involved shooting a “tragedy,” KXAS reported.
Lane said that Dean has expressed remorse for what happened, and that his family “is in shock,” according to the news outlet.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is also reviewing the case for potential civil rights violations.