Atatiana Jefferson was up playing video games with her nephew around 2:30 a.m. when she heard noises outside their home, picked up a gun and pointed it at the window before being shot dead by Texas police, an arrest affidavit revealed.
A warrant for accused former Fort Worth policeman Aaron Dean recounts what led to the deadly shooting from the perspective of Jefferson’s 8-year-old nephew, who was in the room when his aunt was shot. The boy, Zion, told investigators his aunt grabbed the weapon from her purse when she heard a commotion in the backyard.
What Jefferson heard was Dean, 34, and a fellow officer moving around the rear of the home, without announcing their presence, as they investigated an “open structure call” from a concerned neighbor who noticed her front door was open.
“Jefferson raised her handgun, pointed it toward the window, then Jefferson was shot and fell to the ground,” the warrant recalled the child telling police, adding that his aunt cried out in pain.
Jefferson, 28, was pronounced dead just after 3 a.m.
On Tuesday, Fort Worth Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus told reporters there was “absolutely no excuse” for the young woman’s death and that she had every right to defend herself against a perceived threat.
“It makes sense that she would have a gun if she felt that she was being threatened or there was someone in the backyard,” Kraus said during a news conference.
Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, who’s representing Jefferson’s family, echoed that sentiment, arguing it was “only appropriate that Ms. Jefferson would have a gun.”
“When you think there’s someone prowling around in the back at 2 in the morning, you may need to arm yourself,” Merritt said, noting that Jefferson was licensed to carry the legally owned firearm. “That person could have a gun.”
Jefferson’s death has sparked outrage and shock across the Dallas-Forth Worth community, which is still reeling from the recent conviction of fired Dallas cop Amber Guyger, who shot and killed Botham Jean, a Black man, after allegedly mistaking his apartment for her own.
In Jefferson’s case, many agreed that she was right to defend herself.
“She had NO idea WHO was or WHY someone was walking around her house at 2:30 in the morning; it’s called the castle law,” one online user wrote, referencing the statute allowing citizens to use deadly force on intruders without fear of prosecution.
“It is completely reasonable for a person in his/her own home to reach for a firearm when they hear someone prowling around their backyard at 2:30 in the morning,” another chimed in. “So, it’s not the duty of the person in their own home to determine whether [or] not the trespassers are police officers acting in the line of duty. It is the obligation of the police officers to make their identity known.”
One user put it simply: “[A] stranger creeping outside my house at 2-3 am is at the top of my ‘reasons to own a gun’ list.”
Officers arrived to Jefferson’s home early Saturday after a neighbor called the department’s non-emergency line and asked them to do a welfare check after noticing “the front doors have been open since 10 o’clock (p.m.) and I haven’t seen anybody moving around.”
“It’s not normal for them to have both of the doors open this time of night,” he told a dispatcher in audio of the call release by police.
Dean and another officer arrived on the scene but parked nearby, not in front of the home. They proceeded to investigate on foot.
In body cam video released by the department, Dean is seen searching the perimeter of the home with a flashlight before entering what appears to be the backyard. Moments later, he swivels around, shines his light on one of the home’s windows and yells “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!”
He then opens fire, all in a matter of seconds.
According to The Dallas Morning News, the warrant doesn’t say Dean told police that he saw a weapon. However, it does say his partner only spotted Jefferson’s face in the window before Dean fired the fatal shot.
The rookie cop, who was with Fort Worth PD for just over a year, resigned early Monday and was later arrested and charged with Jefferson’s murder. Dean’s attorney, Jim Lane, told Fort Worth’s NBC 5 that his client is deeply “sorry” for “the tragedy.”
Jefferson’s family is now calling for an independent investigation into the shooting.
Her homegoing service has been scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 19.