Former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean was found guilty of manslaughter on Thursday for shooting and killing a Black woman, 28 while responding to a call at her mother’s house.
Atatiana Jefferson, a devoted aunt and aspiring doctor killed by Dean, a white man, faces a sentence of two to twenty years in jail. Jefferson was born and raised in Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood and graduated from Xavier University in Louisiana. Dean remained still as state district judge George Gallagher announced the judgment.
Jefferson was shot by Dean, 38, from the backyard through her bedroom window. On October 12, 2019, at about 2:30 a.m., a worried neighbor noticed that the doors to the house were open and the lights were on the inside. She then contacted a non-emergency police number. After burning hamburgers for dinner, Jefferson and her 8-year-old nephew Zion Carr stayed up late playing video games and left the doors open to let the smoke go. To take care of her ailing mother and Zion’s mother, who was also in terrible condition, Jefferson moved into the East Fort Worth residence.
The jury’s main concerns were whether Dean saw Jefferson’s revolver, which she had seized when she heard a commotion in the backyard, and whether he had any justification for killing her while on duty. Jefferson had a right to self-defense, according to the prosecution. When they arrived at the scene to answer the call, Dean and another officer did not identify themselves. The five days of testimony were centered on whether Dean and his companion should have declared their presence. The trial started on December 5.
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Late on Thursday afternoon, Dean was registered at the Tarrant County jail. The punishment phase will start early on Friday. Dean has chosen to have a jury determine his punishment. Manslaughter offenders are eligible for probation.
Over two days and around 14 hours, the jury of seven men and five women deliberated on Dean’s guilt. They denied the prosecution’s request for a murder conviction, which might have resulted in a life sentence. For a murder conviction versus a manslaughter conviction, the distinction is whether or not the jury thought Dean acted willfully or knowingly. None of the 12 jurors and two alternates are Black, despite there being some individuals of color among them.
Before the verdict was read just after 2:30 p.m., there was tension in the hallway outside the courthouse. Adarius Carr, Jefferson’s brother, hugged Ashley Carr as the judge announced the verdict. Several protesters sprinted out of the courtroom. As people screamed in agony and rage outside the courthouse, a juror covered her face and looked down.
After that, Jefferson’s siblings were escorted from the courtroom. Adarius Carr’s eyes welled with tears as he and Ashley clasped hands and walked away. Dean’s family lingered; they hugged him, and his father rubbed his shoulder before quietly going away as they passed by reporters, activists, and Jefferson’s kin.
Reactions To The Verdict
The killer of Botham Jean and former Balch Springs officer Roy Oliver were both found guilty of murder by Dallas County juries, and Allison Jean, Botham Jean’s mother, claimed Dean “deserves a murder conviction” as well. For killing Botham Jean, a Black man, inside his apartment while he was eating ice cream, Amber Guyger received a ten-year term. Even though she was not on duty, she was still wearing her uniform. Guyger testified at her trial that she shot Jean because she thought he was an intruder. After all, she thought she was entering her apartment. Ten days before Dean killed Jefferson, Guyger received his sentence.
Jordan Edwards, 15, who had committed no crimes and was unarmed as he left a party, was killed while Oliver was performing his job duties. Oliver was found guilty of murder and given a 15-year prison term. Jordan was being driven away from Oliver and another cop when Oliver killed the teenager while in the vehicle’s passenger seat.
Allison Jean told The Dallas Morning News, “Atatiana had every right to defend herself and Zion, and Aaron Dean stated that he did a poor job as a police officer in killing her when she was not a threat.” Although Allison Jean could not make it to the trial, her daughter was present for at least one day of testimony.
Lesa Pamplin, an attorney and a close friend of the Jefferson family, expressed her happiness that the jury took its time in reaching a verdict as cries of “no Justice, no peace” resounded in the background. Regarding the trial, she added, “This is a first.” “I’m delighted these people gave the evidence a natural, rugged look and didn’t hurry it [after] everyone talked about the jury’s makeup. I’m delighted, not annoyed.
The proper verdict should have been murder, according to Lee Merritt, an attorney representing Jefferson’s family in a civil action outside of the courthouse. Before the trial’s conclusion, Dean, his defense team, Jefferson’s family, and the prosecutors are forbidden from discussing publicly.
Greater St. Mark Ministries Bishop Mark Kirkland of Fort Worth remarked, “It’s hard to see now, but it’s a victory.” Dean’s parents were led out of a side door, and his siblings made their way to a parking lot; around two dozen supporters of the Jefferson family gathered in front of the courthouse. Supporters chanted, “This is what Fort Worth looks like,” as they trailed behind.
Rev. Crystal Bates, the president of the DFW Metro NAACP, was questioned about her intentions for Dean’s impending sentencing and responded that she hopes “justice is served.”
Because of Dean’s conviction, “other police enforcement will be warned not to be so trigger-happy when you see somebody of color,” she said. “I hope the punishment establishes a standard so that other cops would think twice,” the offender said.
According to Jefferson’s family friend Cliff Sparks, the jury’s verdict will inspire other police officers. With this decision, “another police would know that he can shoot and kill someone in his garden and get the lesser punishment,” the officer claimed. “That’s wrong. This doesn’t seem right.
Sparks argued that the jury didn’t examine the evidence sufficiently, including whether Dean saw Jefferson’s pistol. “At some point, we must admit that just claiming to have seen anything is insufficient. Right, we have to explain it,” he replied. “For the city of Fort Worth, it’s not a good look.”
While they were present when the verdict was announced, state troopers arrived at the Tarrant County courtroom on Wednesday. The office of Governor Greg Abbott did not answer an inquiry about the rationale behind and quantity of deployed fighters. The appearance of the troopers early on Thursday caused unease, according to Cory Session, vice president of the Innocence Project of Texas.
According to the prosecution’s case, Dean fired the fatal shot that penetrated Jefferson’s heart, which persisted throughout the trial. They said that when Dean arrived at the residence and began an investigation into what Dean indicated he thought might have been a burglary, he failed to see Jefferson’s pistol or adhere to standard departmental protocol.
Dean behaved under his Fort Worth police training to use lethal force when necessary, according to closing statements from Dean’s attorney Bob Gill on Wednesday. Dean stated that he saw the barrel of Jefferson’s gun. His attorneys claimed in opening comments that Dean also saw a green laser attached to Jefferson’s gun pointed in his direction, although Dean did not mention that in his testimony.
The prosecutor described Dean as a “power-hungry” officer with tunnel vision who had a “preconceived view” about East Fort Worth being a dangerous area rife with crime. She claimed that Fort Worth police were “ashamed” of referring to Dean as a “brother in blue.”
“To [Dean], serving and protecting that day was unimportant,” Deener remarked. He needed to arrive and participate in the event. Gill described Dean acting in response to Dean waving a gun at a police officer as “aggressive, provocative conduct.” Police job, according to Gill, is inherently risky.
According to Gill, Dean “saw a handgun pointed at him, and based upon his training, he reacted.” “He made a sad mistake, but he followed the law correctly. He had a reasonable basis to believe that using lethal force to stop [Jefferson’s] use of unlawful deadly force was urgently essential.
What Witnesses Said
On Tuesday afternoon, the cases for both parties were concluded. Last Thursday, after three days of testimony, the prosecution decided to rest their case-in-chief, shocking several legal professionals. When asked whether Dean’s death of Jefferson was justified, they initially chose not to call an expert witness. But after the prosecution presented their police expert as a rebuttal witness, the defense brought its own three witnesses, including Dean, who gave a roughly four-hour testimony earlier this week.
On the last day of testimony, the police use-of-force specialists offered conflicting assessments of whether Dean acted reasonably.
When Dean reacted to the neighbor’s complaints, coded as an “open structure” by the call taker, the prosecution claims he did not follow standard Fort Worth police procedure. Dean was severely criticized by the prosecutor when testifying about the precautions they claimed he should have taken when he got to the house in the 1200 block of East Allen Avenue.
However, Dean claimed that he thought the home had been broken into and that a thief might have been present. According to testimony, Dean shouted orders and shot in under a second.
The morning of the incident, Jefferson’s nephew Zion Carr said to a child forensic interviewer that he had pointed a gun toward the window. The now-11-year-old child, however, claimed she kept the revolver at her side while testifying last week. In addition, Zion said he heard shouting outside the window and thought he spotted a police badge. But Zion claimed on the witness stand that he didn’t hear or see anything outdoors. In a later statement to the judge, defense attorneys hinted that they thought Zion was taught to offer a different narrative of the incident.
The interim police chief claimed Dean resigned before being fired by the Police Department. Officials from the city claimed Jefferson had the right to defend herself in her own house. According to the district attorney’s office, at the time of Dean’s arrest, no Tarrant County officer had ever been charged with murder.