The officer who fired the shot that killed a 28-year-old woman in Fort Worth early Saturday morning did not identify himself as a police officer prior to shooting, a Fort Worth Police Department spokesman says.
The officer, identified Monday afternoon as Aaron Dean, resigned from the department Monday and would have been fired if he had not resigned, interim Chief Ed Kraus said.
The shooting happened just before 2:30 a.m. Saturday on the 1200 block of E. Allen Avenue in Fort Worth. The woman killed was identified by the Tarrant County Medical Examiner as Atatiana Jefferson.
Her family said she was watching her 8-year-old nephew at the time.
Police initially responded after a call from a neighbor indicated the front door to the home was open. The neighbor, James Smith, said he noticed all of the lights were on. There was no movement in the house, so he called the non-emergency line to ask for a welfare check.
Body camera video released by the Fort Worth Police Department shows the officer walking around outside the house with a flashlight. He then stops, points his flashlight at a window and then draws his gun after seeing a person watching him from inside the house.
The officer is heard commanding, "Put your hands up, show me your hands," before he fired his weapon once.
At the press conference Sunday, police could not comment on what the "perceived threat" was. They were also unable to clarify why they mentioned the location of a firearm inside the home in the initial press release without context of where it is found in relation to Jefferson at the time of the shooting.
However, O'Neil confirmed the officers who responded that early morning did not park outside the home. Instead, they parked "nearby."
"What the officer observed and why he did not announce as police will be addressed as the investigation continues," he said.
Sunday night, hundreds of community members and advocates stormed Allen Avenue for a rally. At one point, they marched down the street with candles in hand.
The shooting early Saturday occurred less than two weeks after former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was sentenced for murder after fatally shooting her neighbor Botham Jean in 2018.
Community activists voiced their frustration, pledging support for Jefferson's family.
"We will not stand down on this one. There's no Kumbaya for this one. There's no forgiveness for this one. There's no judge-hugging-officer for this one," Brotherhood Movement member Malikk Ed said.
Michelle Anderson, with The Afiya Center in Dallas said the deadly shooting painted a bigger picture beyond a "training" issue. Instead, she said it was a cultural issue.
"Systemic oppression has created risks for black people to be killed. We talk about state-sanctioned violence. It has always been a culture for black people. so no, it's not about the training issue," Anderson said.
The sentiment was echoed by other attendees, like Fort Worth resident Torrey Hibbler.
"It's impossible to stand by and not feel what she [Jefferson] went through. It's impossible," he said. "It's not just as a black man, but as a human being."
The family's attorney, Lee Merritt, said it was "reckless and irresponsible" to release a picture of the firearm found without context of how it was used – if, at all.
"It's something the community has seen over and over again where the character of the victim gets called into question," Merritt told reporters. "There was nothing nefarious or illegal about owning a firearm and they presented in nowhere that firearm was contributory towards the use of deadly force here."
The police officer should be fired, Merritt said. "That's the least we should expect," he said. Merritt called for the officer's termination before his resignation was announced.
Former Fort Worth police Chief Joel Fitzgerald released a statement Sunday to comment on the shooting.
"Neighbors who call the police department when they believe something is afoot should never have to second guess their calls for our help because responders act outside of their training," Fitzgerald's statement said in part.
The former chief has an active lawsuit against the city of Fort Worth as he fights for his job. His full statement can be found below.
“The prayers of my entire family have been for Ms. Atatiana Smith (sic), her loved ones, and Mr. Jefferson (sic). Just as we all should feel safe in our homes like Atatiana, neighbors who call the police department when they believe something is afoot should never have to second guess their calls for our help because responders act outside of their training.
I urge department leadership to immediately order the mandatory re-certification of all police officers in de-escalation, procedural justice and implicit bias. It is abundantly clear that since May 20th, 2019, we have taken significant steps backwards. "The way we've always done it," is neither proactive or acceptable anymore; every community member in every part of the city deserves our best. Officers across the county commonly close open garage doors and conduct welfare checks that yield non-violent results. Having institutional control over the law enforcement agency is a must, especially when dealing with newer generations of officers who erroneously default to equipment over communications skills.
As my attorney Stephen Kennedy has set forth in our pleadings, City of Fort Worth politicians are controlled by the local POA, state CLEAT entity, and a few deep-pocketed donors. Prospective candidates cannot get elected without their endorsement, a "machine politics" type of atmosphere that, here in the south, escalates racial conflict and facilitates public corruption. The evidence speaks for itself. The documentation concerning the City's failures to comply with federal law governing access to CJIS is voluminous. Lucrative government contracts have been steered and awarded outside of a neutral and competitive bidding process, many times to the detriment of minority or small business owners. And as we heard today, policemen are not held accountable for their own criminal behavior, and the police hierarchy remains silent.
In the span of just one month a select few were finally able to see video of a Fort Worth police officer improperly detain (arrest) an innocent black woman for no reason other than angering him. Was the white policeman held fully accountable for this false arrest? The answer is no. The Fort Worth Police Officers Association, led by their President Manny Ramirez, successfully lobbied the Interim Police Chief, earning the offending policeman a slap on the wrist.
Yesterday, a different officer shoots an innocent woman in response to a welfare check call. In response we have been presented with blurred pictures of an alleged weapon, a five-minute press conference with no details from a lieutenant who to his chagrin, presented no solutions.
During this time of crisis, where is the interim police chief? Where is POA President Manny Ramirez? Where is Mayor Price? Why weren’t they at Sunday’s press conference? Why was no substantive information provided? On May 19, 2019, when my department successfully rescued an abducted girl from a kidnapper, they raced to the microphone to seek credit and fame. Yet today, when our community needs them more than ever, they are noticeably and inexcusably absent. There is a vacuum of leadership and these individuals must be held accountable. They are, in a sense, accomplices because they facilitate a system that reinforces social stratification, inequality, and hostility. In just a few short months, we have become a city of hate. Our leaders must be held accountable.”
Fitzgerald's attorney, Stephen Andrew Kennedy also released a statement on the shooting.
“I again demand that the City of Fort Worth reinstate Dr. Fitzgerald or grant him a public hearing concerning his termination in accordance with the City Charter for the City of Fort Worth. The City Attorney of Fort Worth must act. Failure to act in accordance with the law has led this City to chaos. It’s time to stop playing politics.
Local editorial boards who purchase ink by the barrel and have unlimited airtime should join me in demanding that the City act in accordance with its Charter. If not now, when? If not us, who?
Had Dr. Fitzgerald been reinstated months ago, Atatiana probably would be alive today, and the number of police shootings would not be in double digits.”