A white Texas police officer fatally shot a black woman inside her own home early Saturday morning after a neighbor who’d noticed her door was open requested a welfare check, authorities said.
Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was pronounced dead at the scene shortly after 2:25 a.m., when one of the officers responding to an “open structure” call at her home “drew his duty weapon and fired” at a person inside the home near a window whom he’d deemed a threat, the Fort Worth Police Department said in a Saturday statement.
The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed her identity to The Daily Beast.
Jefferson was reportedly not alone in the house at the time of the incident. One of her neighbors, 62-year-old James Smith, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram he’d called the non-emergency police number to report her door being open because he knew her 8-year-old nephew was staying in the house with her. Police have not confirmed whether the child was also found in the home, however.
Body-camera footage obtained by the Star-Telegram shows two officers—both equipped with flashlights—checking the perimeter of Jefferson’s home before walking around the side of the house to open the gate into the backyard. The officer in the backyard “observed a person standing inside the residence near a window,” authorities said, and started to shout.
“Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” the officer is heard yelling with his gun drawn.
The officer, who has not been identified by the Fort Worth Police Department, then fired a single shot through the window, the statement said.
“Officers entered the residence locating the individual and a firearm and began providing emergency medical care.”
Police did not specify if Jefferson was holding the weapon when she was fatally shot. It also remains unclear if the officers knocked on the door and identified themselves before examining the perimeter of the house with flashlights.
According to Smith, the officers had parked around the corner from Jefferson’s home, meaning she wouldn’t have been able to see them.
Civil-rights attorney Lee Merritt, who said his office is representing Jefferson’s family, wrote on Facebook that she was playing video games with her nephew “when they heard what they believed to be a prowler creeping around the back window of the home.”
“When she went to see what was going on she was confronted by an officer with his gun drawn shouting commands. With just seconds to comply, she was shot through the window,” Merritt wrote.
The officer who fired the shot, who has been on the force since last April, “has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the critical police incident investigation,” police said. The Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office confirmed to The Daily Beast they are looking into Saturday’s incident but have declined to provide details due to the “ongoing investigation.”
While police released some body camera video of the incident Saturday in order to “provide transparent and relevant information to the public,” they noted they are unable to release video from inside the house, citing state law.
“The Fort Worth Police Department shares the deep concerns of the public and is committed to completing an extremely thorough investigation of his critical police incident to its resolution,” the statement concluded.
Smith told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram he was struggling with the aftermath of what happened when he’d simply been trying to look out for the safety of his neighbor.
“I’m shaken. I’m mad. I’m upset. And I feel it’s partly my fault,” Smith told the newspaper, adding that he was just trying to be a good neighbor. “If I had never dialed the police department, she’d still be alive.”
The body footage shows that while the screen door was closed, the front door was open and the lights were on inside the house. Smith, who watched the incident, told WFAA he is confused by the officer’s decision not to knock or announce himself when trying to enter 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 said.
“If you don’t feel safe with the police department, then who do you feel safe with?”