A former Texas police officer has been convicted of manslaughter for fatally shooting a black woman through a rear window of her home in 2019.
Jurors found Aaron Dean, 38, not guilty of murder, but convicted him of manslaughter in the death of Atatiana Jefferson, 28.
Dean faces up to 20 years in prison but it could have been a life sentence if he was convicted of murder.
It came as a rare conviction of an officer for killing someone who was also armed with a gun.
Dean, a white cop from Fort Worth, shot Jefferson while responding to a call about an open front door.
Aaron Dean, 38, was convicted of manslaughter for fatally shooting a black woman through the rear window of her home when he was a police officer responding to a call about an open front door
Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was armed when she was shot after a neighbor called a nonemergency police line to report her front door was open
The judge told jurors Wednesday that they could also consider a manslaughter charge.
The Tarrant County jury returned the verdict after more than 13 hours of deliberation over two days.
That followed six days of testimony and arguments in which the primary dispute was whether Dean knew Jefferson was armed when he shot her.
Dean testified that he saw her weapon, but prosecutors alleged the evidence showed otherwise.
The case was unusual for the relative speed with which, amid public outrage, the Fort Worth Police Department released video of the Oct 12, 2019, shooting and arrested Dean.
He’d completed the police academy the year before and quit the force without speaking to investigators.
Since then, the case had been repeatedly postponed amid lawyerly wrangling, the terminal illness of Dean´s lead attorney and the COVID-19 pandemic.
The verdict followed six days of testimony and arguments in which the primary dispute was whether Dean (middle) knew Jefferson was armed when he shot her.
The courtroom and jury were shown a photograph of the gun found in the residence of Atatiana Jefferson, after she was fatally shot
She had been playing video games that night with her nephew and it emerged at trial that they left the doors open to vent smoke from hamburgers the boy burned.
Bodycam footage showed that Dean and a second officer who responded to the call didn’t identify themselves as police at the house.
Dean and Officer Carol Darch testified that they thought the house might have been burglarized and quietly moved into the fenced-off backyard looking for signs of forced entry.
There, Dean, whose gun was drawn, fired a single shot through the window a split-second after shouting at Jefferson, who was inside, to show her hands.
Dean testified that he had no choice but to shoot when he saw Jefferson pointing the barrel of a gun directly at him.
But under questioning from prosecutors he acknowledged numerous errors, again and again conceding that actions he took before and after the shooting were ‘more bad police work.’
Darch’s back was to the window when Dean shot, but she testified that he never mentioned seeing a gun before he pulled the trigger and didn’t say anything about the weapon as they rushed in to search the house.
Zion Carr, 11, Jefferson’s nephew, testified during the murder trial saying that he thought he was dreaming when his aunt fell to the floor after being shot
Dean joined the Fort Worth Police Department in April 2018, according to officials
Dean acknowledged on the witness stand that he only said something about the gun after seeing it on the floor inside the house and that he never gave Jefferson first aid.
Jefferson’s 8-year-old nephew Zion Carr was in the room with his aunt when she was shot.
Zion, now 11, testified that Jefferson took out her gun believing there was an intruder in the backyard, but he offered contradictory accounts of whether she pointed the pistol out the window.
On the trial’s opening day, the 11-year-old Zion testified that Jefferson always had the gun pointed down, but in an interview that was recorded soon after the shooting and played in court, he said she had pointed the weapon at the window.
He told the court that he’d thought he was dreaming when his aunt fell to the floor after being shot by a cop through a bedroom window of her Texas home.
‘I was thinking is it a dream,’ Zion Carr said to the court.
‘She was crying and shaking.’
Carr, who was playing video games with his aunt that night in October 2019, told the court that the doors to her home were open because they were trying to get smoke out after cooking hamburgers.
A concerned neighbor saw the open door and called for a welfare check, which led to the tragic shooting.
Jefferson had been babysitting her nephew, who was 8 at the time, when officers arrived at her home and allegedly did not identify themselves
A bullet hole could be seen in the back window outside the Fort Worth home after the fatal shooting
Jefferson was holding a gun when she went to investigate a noise, but never raised it to point at the police officer who fatally shot her through the window, her nephew testified.
Defense attorneys contended that the child said otherwise immediately after the shooting.
The high-profile story of Jefferson’s death gained national attention and spurred protests against police brutality across North Texas.
Dean quit and was charged with murder two days after killing the 28-year-old while responding to a call about an open front door on October 12, 2019.
Body-camera footage showed that neither Dean nor the other responding officer identified themselves as police.
Dean’s attorney, Miles Brissette, said the officer opened fire after seeing the silhouette of Jefferson with a gun in the window and a green laser light pointed at him. Prosecutors told the jurors that the evidence showed otherwise.
The video showed Dean approaching the door of the home where Jefferson was caring for her nephew.
He then walked around the side of the house, pushed through a gate into the fenced-off backyard and fired through the glass a split-second after shouting at Jefferson to show her hands.
Jefferson’s killing shattered the relationship police had been trying to build with communities in Fort Worth, about 30 miles west of Dallas.
The city of 935,000 has long had complaints of racially unequal policing and excessive force.
The shooting drew swift rebuke from the then-police chief and Republican mayor, who at the time called the circumstances ‘unthinkable’ and said Jefferson having a gun was ‘irrelevant.’
Dean’s legal team used those comments repeatedly to try to move the case from Fort Worth, claiming the statements and media attention would bias the jury pool.
A large crowd later gathered outside Masjid Hassan Al Islam, a mosque next door to Jefferson’s home on East Allen Avenue for a vigil in October 2019
Jefferson’s death sparked outrage in the community where police had been trying to build relationships for years
Four-year-old Trinity Ford joined the crowd gathered during the October 2019 vigil for Jefferson
Hundreds of mourners attended Jefferson’s funeral, including Fort Worth’s mayor and the interim police chief in Dallas
News of Jefferson’s death was met with heartbreak and fury in the community and nationwide.
Local activists marched through the streets of Fort Worth, briefly disrupting traffic on part of Interstate 35, at the time.
A large crowd later gathered outside Masjid Hassan Al Islam, a mosque next door to Jefferson’s home on East Allen Avenue for a vigil.
‘No justice, no peace,’ they chanted, holding signs that said: ‘Enough is enough’ and ‘We deserve respect.’
‘Everyone has the right to be angry but then what?’ attendee Nita Sullivan told the at times agitated crowd.
‘You can only shake your fists at the sky so many times.’
Omar Suleiman, a Dallas-area imam and activist, told reporters at the time that he did not speak during the vigil because he was speechless.
News of the shooting captured nationwide attention as several lawmakers responded on social media. Democratic presidential candidate Sen Bernie Sanders called on the Justice Department to investigate
Elizabeth Warren called for police reform to include ‘federal standards for use of force that incorporate proven strategies like de-escalation, verbal warning requirements, and the use of non-lethal alternatives’
‘I think people feel perpetually traumatized,’ Suleiman said later.
‘There’s a great sense of sadness and anger. Her family wanted us to know that she was human. That should go without saying.’
Local minister and activist Rev Kyev Tatum of Ministers Against Crime and the 3E coalition called on Texas Gov Greg Abbott and Lt Gov Dan Patrick to travel to Fort Worth to address the shooting with the local community to help quell anger and address the issue of police shooting unarmed civilians in their own homes.
‘Our young people are not going to tolerate this, no matter how much we tell them to be cool, remain calm, that justice will be served,’ Kyev told WFAA at the time.
‘When another mother loses her wife, a caregiver for both her eight-year-old nephew and a grandparent, loses her life in her own home, there’s something grossly wrong with the Fort Worth Police Department and they refuse to take responsibility for their actions.’
Several lawmakers reacted to the shooting on social media at the time as well.
Democratic presidential candidate Sen Bernie Sanders called on the Justice Department to investigate.
‘The killings of unarmed Black Americans have got to end,’ Sanders tweeted at the time.
‘Atatiana Jefferson should be alive.’
Elizabeth Warren called for police reform to include ‘federal standards for use of force that incorporate proven strategies like de-escalation, verbal warning requirements, and the use of non-lethal alternatives.’
Former Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro tweeted an article about the shooting and said police shouldn’t make people ‘unsafe in [their] own homes.’
‘How many articles do we need to read or videos do we need to watch before we do something to reform policing in this country?’ he asked.
A GoFundMe campaign raised over $258,374 for Jefferson’s family.