Fort Worth Officer-Involved Shooting Puts Strain On Police-Community Relations, Again
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
This weekend, 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson was shot and killed in her home. The shooter was a Fort Worth police officer, 34-year-old Aaron Dean. Jefferson was playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew when Dean shot her through the bedroom window from the backyard. Dean resigned from the force. He was arrested, and now he's been charged with murder.
NPR's Wade Goodwyn is covering this story. Hi, Wade.
WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: Hello.
SHAPIRO: This arrest and murder charge came pretty quickly. Is that because of the recording from Officer Dean's bodycam? Is that why this happened so quickly?
GOODWYN: I think so. There's a couple of red flags that stand out about this shooting, and the first is that Aaron Dean never identified himself as a police officer before he shot into the home. The officers were responding to a call from a neighbor who saw that the home's front doors were - back doors that were open, which the neighbor knew was unusual. But that was because Jefferson's mother, who owns the home, was in the hospital.
So Atatiana opened the doors to let the cool night air blow through the screen doors. So when the police get there, they go through the back gate into the backyard. And that's when Dean saw Jefferson at the window, and he yells, put your hands up. Show me your hands - and immediately shoots her.
Now, the arrest warrant, which was released today, states that Jefferson's 8-year-old nephew told investigators that they'd heard noises in the backyard, and Atatiana went and got her handgun from her purse. She had it in her hand, pointed toward the window as she went to look. But now, remember, this is Texas, so the Fort Worth police chief said at a press conference today that Jefferson had every right to arm herself if she felt threatened. And the Fort Worth mayor, Betsy Price, said that if she'd been in that situation, she'd have probably gotten her gun, too.
SHAPIRO: Tell us more about what happened on that night. So far as we know, a neighbor called the city's nonemergency 311 number.
SHAPIRO: It was after 2:00 in the morning. What other details are clear here?
GOODWYN: So this is a predominately black neighborhood with people who've lived there for decades. Lots of these people know each other well. Atatiana Jefferson - she'd gotten her degree from Xavier, was going to go to medical school, was known for playing video games and basketball with her nephews. And now she's dead.
And here's one of Jefferson's neighbors, Gail Hawkins. She's an educator.
GAIL HAWKINS: Why didn't someone go to the front door, maybe ring the doorbell? If the front door was wide open, why would you go to the back instead of the front of the house?
GOODWYN: And I think that's the question that a lot of people here have. I mean, there was nothing in this dispatch call that indicated anything was amiss. The call was simply that doors were open. If you're the police, why not announce yourself at the screen door, ask if everything's OK?
SHAPIRO: This shooting comes just two weeks after former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was convicted of murdering 26-year-old Botham Jean in his apartment, another white officer killing a black man. You covered that story as well. Do you think the Guyger case is going to have a bearing on this latest Dean case?
GOODWYN: No, I think it already has. You know, the outrage from the black community in Fort Worth - you know, in Texas and across the country - there is the reaction from the Fort Worth mayor and police chief apologizing, already concluding that the shooting was unjustified. You know, when I interviewed Ben Crump, one of Botham Jean's family's lawyers, he told me they felt that Amber Guyger walked into that apartment that she thought was hers, saw a black man and immediately thought, criminal.
Here's Gail Hawkins again, expressing the same kind of idea but in a different way.
HAWKINS: We need our black cops in this neighborhood that feels comfortable with being in this neighborhood, patrolling this area, you know? And that's what I feel. I feel like we need to get people in this neighborhood that know our people. You know, this right here - this is a senseless crime. This right here - this is very heartbreaking.
GOODWYN: Since June, Fort Worth police officers have shot seven people, killed six of them, Jefferson being the sixth just in the last 4 1/2 months.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Wade Goodwyn in Texas. Thank you, Wade.
GOODWYN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.