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Judge Makes Atatiana Jefferson’s Neighbor a Witness Because Lawyers Say His Peaceful Protest Outside the Court Was a Distraction

A Texas resident and now civil rights demonstrator has been asked to halt his peaceful protest outside of the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center in the city of Fort Worth. The defendant and the prosecution believes he is a distraction to the case.

On Monday, Nov. 28, jury selection started for the trial to determine if Aaron Dean, a former member of the Fort Worth Police Department, is guilty of murdering Atatiana Jefferson on the morning of Saturday, Oct. 12, 2019, as she played video games in her East Allen Avenue home with her nephew, according to Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

As the court proceedings were on their way, outside of the building was James Smith, Jefferson’s neighbor, holding a banner that read, “We want justice!” His sign also features a large picture of his neighbor and her name.

Dean’s attorney petitioned Judge George Gallagher during the hearing to have Smith stop. The prosecutors also warned Smith of his potential to have a detrimental effect on the trial. However, the prosecution stopped short of requesting Smith to leave, saying they did not believe they have the authority to prohibit what he does on public property.

As a healthy resolve, the judge and both parties agreed should Smith return to demonstrate, he will be sworn in as a witness. By doing this, Smith would be prevented from speaking about the case, as all participants in a trial are confined to a gag order.

The next day, Tuesday, Nov. 9, Smith returned and was sworn in — before jury selection was complete.

Smith has been driven to demand justice as his life is now forever intertwined with Jefferson’s death. He was the person to make the call to the police over 1,100 days ago, the Saturday when she was fatally shot. He said the day haunts him, with him reliving his call over and over again.

The neighbor alerted authorities on a non-emergency line at 2:25 a.m., requesting an officer come and do a wellness check because she had left her front door open.

“They’re usually home but they’ve never had both of the front doors open,” Smith said to the dispatcher. “It’s not normal for them to have both the doors open this late for that long.”

“I explained on the call there wasn’t any type of violence going on, any time of arguments going on,” Smith said later. “It was simply a concern for my neighbor.”

Dean was one of those officers who responded around four minutes later. Two screen doors were shut, but the wood door was open.

Around 2:30 a.m., without announcing himself, he went to the back of her home. Hearing the sound of someone rustling outside in the middle of the night, Jefferson got her firearm and went to the window.

The rookie cop, with about a year on the job, shouted, “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” and within a second, according to the officer’s own bodycam, he shot the 28-year-old through her home window in front of her 8-year-old nephew, Zion.

On Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, Jefferson’s family filed a civil lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas — Fort Worth division claiming the boy has been traumatized by the shooting.

“At the age of 8, Zion Carr was forced to watch the murder of his aunt, Atatiana Jefferson, at the hands of Fort Worth Police,” the complaint said.

The judge spoke directly to Smith after he was sworn in. During his remarks, he talked about his protest and how it could do the opposite of bringing justice to his neighbor, sharing the possibility of impeding the case’s progress if potential jury members are influenced by his actions.

Gallagher told Smith on Tuesday after swearing him in that he can’t tell him not to stand on the street with the sign, but he wanted him to realize that it could keep the case from moving forward if it influences potential jury members.

This was not just words to shake Smith up. According to the judge, of the 200 potential jurors who came to the courthouse on Monday, 110 of them had knowledge of the case. Another interview will see if their prior knowledge of the case would make them impartial jurors, and if so, they would be dismissed.

In addition to Smith’s various protests, which have been a thorn in the defense’s side during almost every hearing regarding the case, the trial has had a few hiccups.

One unfortunately centered around the health of Dean’s previous counsel.  According to the Star-Telegram, Jim Lane, Dean’s lead attorney, had been sick with an illness so severe it caused a few delays. On Sunday, Nov. 27, the day before jury selection was to start, Lane died.

Gallagher has noted the urgency of the case. With momentum starting to pick up, he wants to have the jury selection, 12 jurors and 2 alternates, completed by Thursday or Friday.

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