Former officer who killed Atatiana Jefferson testifies she pointed a gun at him before he fired
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The former Fort Worth police officer charged with murder for the 2019 shooting of 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson in her own home testified Monday he fired at her because he saw her point her gun at him.
“As I started to get that second phrase out, ‘Show me your hands,’ I saw a silhouette,” the former officer, 38-year-old Aaron Dean, said. “I was looking right down the barrel of a gun, and when I saw the barrel of that gun pointed at me, I fired a single shot from my duty weapon.”
He said he had his weapon out because he believed the home was in the midst of being robbed. He fired at her through the window “because we’re taught to meet deadly force with deadly force. We’re not taught that we have to wait,” he said.
His testimony is likely to be the pivotal evidence in the trial, which began last weekand has already featured body-camera footage of the shooting and testimony from the primary witnesses, Jefferson’s 11-year-old nephew and Dean’s police partner. The prosecution rested its case after three days of testimony.
Dean and his partner responded to Jefferson’s house around 2:25 a.m. on October 12, 2019, in response to a neighbor calling a nonemergency police line to note her doors were open in the middle of the night. The officers did not at any point identify themselves as police when scoping out the home, and Dean then shot into a back window at Jefferson, who was up late playing video games with her young nephew.
Dean, who is White, resigned days afterwardand was arrested and charged with murder for killing Jefferson, who is Black. He has pleaded not guilty to murder, a charge which carries a possible sentence of five to 99 years.
In opening statements, prosecutors acknowledged Jefferson had a firearm but said there was no evidence Dean saw the weapon in her hand before firing at her.
“This is not a circumstance where they’re staring at the barrel of a gun and he had to defend himself against that person or to protect his partner,” Tarrant County prosecutor Ashlea Deener said. “The evidence will support he did not see the gun in her hand. This is not a justification. This is not a self-defense case. This is murder.”
Yet Dean’s defense attorney said the former officer had seen an armed silhouette with a green laser pointed at him before firing.
“In that window he sees a silhouette,” attorney Miles Brissette said. “He doesn’t know if it’s a male or female, he doesn’t know the racial makeup of the silhouette. He sees it, he sees the green laser and the gun come up on him. He takes a half-step back, gives a command and fires his weapon.”
Heavily edited body camera footage released to the public showed an officer peering through two open doors, but he didn’t knock or announce his presence. Instead, he walked around the house for about a minute. Eventually, the officer approached a window and shined a flashlight into what appeared to be a dark room.
“Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” the officer yelled before firing a single shot, according to the body camera footage.
How the trial has gone so far
The prosecution’s first witness was Zion Carr, who was 8 years old and in the bedroom with his “Aunt Tay” when she was shot.
Now 11, he testified they had accidentally burned hamburgers earlier in the night, so they opened the doors to air the smoke out of the house.
He and his aunt were up late playing video games when Jefferson heard a noise outside, and she then went to her purse to get her gun, he testified. He did not see her raise her firearm toward the window, he testified.
Zion said he did not hear or see anything outside the window, but he saw his aunt fall to the ground and start crying.
“I was thinking, ‘Is it a dream?’” he testified. “She was crying and just shaking.”
He was confused by what happened and only later learned his aunt had been killed. “I was very upset,” he said.
Prosecutors also called to the stand Dean’s police partner Carol Darch, who testified she was with Dean when they went to investigate the home.
She said she believed the home was being burglarized because two doors were open, lights were on inside, cabinets were wide open and things were strewn about the living room and kitchen area.
She had her back to the window when Dean began to yell out commands for Jefferson to put her hands up, she testified. Darch said she started to turn around, heard a gunshot, then looked over Dean’s shoulder and could see a face in the window with eyes “as big as saucers.”
She testified she did not see Jefferson holding a gun and doesn’t recall Dean ever saying Jefferson had a gun.
She said neither officer announced themselves as police because “if there’s a burglar still in the building, you don’t want them to know that you’re there.”
An attorney for Jefferson’s family said she was trying to protect her nephew from what they both thought was a prowler. She had moved into her ailing mother’s Fort Worth home a few months earlier to take care of her, family attorney S. Lee Merritt said at the time. She also took care of her nephews.
Jefferson graduated from Xavier University of Louisiana in 2014 with a degree in biology and worked in pharmaceutical equipment sales, according to her family’s attorney.