Thursday 12 December, 2019

White Fort Worth officer resigns after killing black woman

Amber Carr, center, wipes a tear as her sister, Ashley Carr, left, and attorney Lee Merritt, right, listen to their brother Adarius Carr talk about their sister, Atatiana Jefferson during a news conference Monday, Oct. 14, 2019 in downtown Dallas. (Irwin Thompson/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

Amber Carr, center, wipes a tear as her sister, Ashley Carr, left, and attorney Lee Merritt, right, listen to their brother Adarius Carr talk about their sister, Atatiana Jefferson during a news conference Monday, Oct. 14, 2019 in downtown Dallas. (Irwin Thompson/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

A white Fort Worth police officer who shot and killed a black woman in her home while responding to a call about an open front door acted inappropriately and resigned before he could be fired, the police chief said Monday.

Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was killed in front her of 8-year-old nephew, cut down by a bullet fired through her window early Saturday. Police bodycam video showed that Aaron Dean did not identify himself as an officer and fired a split-second after shouting at the woman to show her hands.

Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus said Dean would have been fired if he had not quit. He said a criminal investigation is underway and he expects an update by Tuesday on whether the officer — a member of the force for 1½ years — will be charged.

"Nobody looked at this video and said that there's any doubt that this officer acted inappropriately," Kraus said.

Earlier in the day, Jefferson's family had demanded that Dean be fired and arrested.

"Why this man is not in handcuffs is a source of continued agitation for this family and for this community," family attorney Lee Merritt said.

Police went to Jefferson's home about 2.25 am after a neighbour called a non-emergency line to report that her front door had been left open. In a statement over the weekend, the department said officers saw someone near a window inside the home and that one of them drew his gun and fired after "perceiving a threat."

The body camera video released by police showed Dean shouting, "Put your hands up! Show me your hands!" and immediately firing.

The video included images of a gun inside a bedroom. The police chief on Monday said he had no information on whether Jefferson was holding it when she was shot. And he said that in hindsight, releasing the images was "a bad thing to do," noting that many Texas homeowners keep guns nearby for self-defence.

The family lawyer said Jefferson was staying up late, playing video games with her nephew, when she was killed.

A large crowd gathered outside Jefferson's home Sunday night for a vigil after earlier demonstrations briefly stopped traffic on Interstate 35. A single bullet hole was visible in the window of the single-story, freshly painted purple home, and floral tributes and stuffed animals piled up in the street.

The police chief said that Dean could face state criminal charge and that he has also submitted a case to the FBI to review for possible federal civil rights charges.

Dean has not yet hired an attorney but will have one provided with financial support from the state's largest police union, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, according to Charley Wilkison, executive director.

Fort Worth is about 30 miles (50 kilometres) west of Dallas, where another high-profile police shooting occurred last year.

In that case, white Dallas police officer Amber Guyger shot and killed her black neighbour Botham Jean inside his own apartment after Guyger said she mistook his place for her own. Guyger, 31, was sentenced this month to 10 years in prison.

Relations with the public have been strained after other recent Fort Worth police shootings. In June, the department footage of officers killing a man who ignored repeated orders to drop his handgun. He was the fourth person Fort Worth police had fired upon in 10 days.

Nearly two-thirds of the department's 1,100 officers are white, just over 20% are Hispanic, and about 10% are black.

Kraus took over as interim police chief in May after the previous chief was fired.

Jefferson was a 2014 graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans and earned a bachelor's degree in biology. She was working in pharmaceutical equipment sales and was considering going back to medical school, according to the family's lawyer.

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