Hours after a Texas police officer resigned Monday for fatally shooting a black woman inside her home over the weekend, he was arrested and charged with murder, according to local jail records.
Aaron Dean, 35, resigned earlier on Monday from the Fort Worth Police Department, soon after the police chief said he had planned to fire him over the Saturday morning death of 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson.
Authorities said Dean was responding to a call for a welfare check call at her home after one of her neighbors noticed her front door was slightly ajar when he “drew his duty weapon and fired” at a “perceived threat.”
In a statement following Dean’s arrest, Jefferson’s family expressed relief that he had been charged in the killing, but said the city had “much work to do to reform a brutal culture of policing.”
“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,” civil rights attorney Lee Merritt said in a statement after Dean’s arrest. “The City of Fort Worth has much work to do to reform a brutal culture of policing.”
Police Chief Ed Kraus said Monday that Dean faces possible criminal charges for the Saturday night slaying, and if he had not resigned, he would have been fired.
“I get it. We are trying to do better... anyone who had looked at that video saw it was wrong,” Kraus told reporters, adding that while he intended to meet with Dean on Monday, the officer resigned before he got the chance.
Kraus also said the officer has not been cooperative with the department’s investigation and has refused to answer questions. He said the Fort Worth Police Department submitted a preliminary case to the FBI on Monday, so federal investigators can decide whether Dean should face charges for any civil-rights violations.
Dean’s resignation was announced shortly after Jefferson’s family slammed local authorities for the “reckless act” and called on the federal government to investigate the slaying.
“We demand justice for Atatiana with an independent thorough process,” Ashley Carr, Jefferson’s older sister, said during a Monday morning press conference. Carr’s 8-year-old son was playing video games in Jefferson’s bedroom at the time of the shooting.
Flanked by several of Jefferson’s family members, Merritt said the “problematic” police department created an “unacceptable” and “dangerous situation” when they escalated Jefferson’s welfare check “with the equivalent of a SWAT” team response. The lawyer said the family wants the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to conduct individual investigations into their loved one’s murder.
“She didn’t do anything wrong, but she’s inside of her home, trying to protect her home and my son that’s inside. She’s not a threat. She’s a college graduate,” Carr added. “You know, you want to see justice, but justice don’t bring my sister back.”
The department admitted over the weekend that the now-former officer, who joined the force last year, never identified himself as a cop before he opened fire.
Jefferson’s family members called for him to be “vigorously prosecuted” and “appropriately sentenced.”
“We want this officer to be charged like the criminal he is,” community activist Corey Hughes said Monday. One of the slain woman’s brothers added, “When you don’t do it the way you’ve been taught, you have to answer for that.”
Jefferson’s neighbor, 62-year-old James Smith, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram he decided to call the police department’s non-emergency number to report that her door was open because he was worried about the child inside the house.
“I called my police department for a welfare check. No domestic violence, no arguing, nothing that they should have been concerned about as far as them coming with guns drawn to my neighbor’s house,” Smith added to WFAA.
Merritt said Saturday the pre-med graduate and her nephew heard a sound they believed to be a “prowler creeping around the back window of the home.” Jefferson—who had been living in the house to care for her sick mother while working remotely for a pharmaceutical equipment business to save for medical school—paused their Halo game to investigate the sound, he said.
“[The nephew] saw her when she fell and he has found a way to maintain more composure than the Fort Worth police department. He still offers his mother, family consolement,” Merritt said on Monday, adding that the child has already begun counseling. “We don’t know the emotional trauma, psychological trauma this will have for an 8 year old.”
The shooting occurred less than two weeks after former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was convicted of fatally shooting her unarmed black neighbor, Botham Jean, inside his apartment in 2018.
On Sunday night, hundreds gathered to protest in a demonstration that was reminiscent of those held after Jean’s death. Protesters demanded justice for Jefferson and called for action against racial bias and excessive use of force by police. While holding candles, signs, and registering people to vote, the over 500 attendees also called for the officer’s prosecution.
“Why this man is not in handcuffs right now is a source of continued agitation for this family and this community,” Merritt said Monday.
In Smith’s call to the police released on Sunday, the 62-year-old tells dispatchers it is unusual for Jefferson’s door to be open.
“The front doors have been open since 10 p.m., and I haven’t seen anyone leave the house,” he told the non-emergency operator.
Body-camera footage shows two officers walking alongside Jefferson’s home with flashlights before going to the side of the house to open the backyard gate. According to Smith, the two officers parked around the corner from Jefferson’s home—making it impossible for her to have seen them approaching.
Police said the officer in the backyard “observed a person standing inside the residence near a window” and started to shout commands.
“Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” the officer is heard yelling with his gun drawn before firing a single shot through the window.
The officers immediately entered the home, police said, “and began providing emergency medical care.” Jefferson was pronounced dead on the scene.
While authorities said a gun was found inside the home after Jefferson was fatally shot, it was not immediately clear whether she was holding the weapon. Merritt said Monday that Jefferson legally owned a gun.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price on Monday slammed authorities’ decision to mention the firearm—calling the addition “irrelevant” because Jefferson was in her own home. Price added that “absolutely nothing can justify” the Saturday slaying.
“Atatiana was a victim, she was taken from her family. Justice is critical here,” Price said at the Monday press conference. “Our community is mourning and hurting, everyone expects justice however you define justice.”
During a Sunday news conference, Fort Worth Police Lt. Brandon O’Neil also admitted Dean never identified himself as a police officer.
“What the officer observed and why he did not announce ‘police’ will be addressed as the investigation continues,” O’Neil said.
The Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office previously confirmed to The Daily Beast they are looking into Saturday’s incident but have declined to provide details due to the “ongoing investigation.” Fort Worth authorities said there will be an update on Dean’s criminal investigation on Tuesday.
Merritt added that while the police department reached out to the family immediately after the incident, the family is reluctant to speak with authorities they do not trust.
“From the moment we got the call, it’s been more inconceivable and more confusing,” Jefferson’s aunt, Venitta Body, said Monday. “There’s been nothing done to take away that confusion.”