In a case that has been delayed for years, a white former police officer is scheduled to go on trial Monday for killing and shooting a Black woman through the back window of her Texas home while responding to a complaint about an open front door.
After shooting Atatiana Jefferson, 28, in October 2019, Fort Worth officer Aaron Dean resigned and was then charged with murder. Jefferson and her then-8-year-old nephew were playing video games together when something unusual happened behind the home, according to the nephew, who later told detectives his aunt drew a revolver. Dean didn’t identify himself as a police officer, according to body camera footage.
The arrest of Dean and the relative speed with which the Fort Worth Police Department made the body-camera video public amid widespread outcry at the time made the case uncommon at the time. Since then, his case has been continually delayed due to legal disputes, his lead attorney’s terminal sickness, and the COVID-19 epidemic.
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Derek Chauvin, a former Minneapolis police officer, was tried and found guilty of killing George Floyd more than one and a half years ago. However, Floyd was assassinated around seven months after Jefferson, in a case that ignited worldwide racial injustice protests.
Dean has been free on a $200,000 bond after entering a not-guilty plea. He is accused of killing Jefferson on October 12, 2019, after a neighbor reported that Jefferson’s front door was open to a non-emergency police line. He is now 38 years old.
Dean may be seen on bodycam footage walking up to the entrance of the house where Jefferson was watching over her nephew. Then, after yelling for Jefferson, who was inside, to show her hands, he moved around the side of the home, pushed through a gate into the fenced-off backyard, and fired through the glass.
On the video, Dean is not heard identifying himself as a police officer, and it’s not obvious if he was aware Jefferson was carrying a weapon. The answer to that query and any potential testimony from a different officer who was present that evening are likely to be crucial issues at trial.
Months before the incident, Jefferson moved into her mother’s house to help as the elderly woman’s health deteriorated while she was thinking about a career in medicine.
In Fort Worth, a city of 935,000 people located about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Dallas, where there had long been allegations of racially unfair policing and excessive force, her execution damaged confidence police had been trying to develop with communities of color.
The city’s Republican mayor and then-police chief swiftly condemned the shooting, calling the events “really unimaginable” and dismissing Jefferson’s possession of a gun as “irrelevant.”In vain attempts to have the case transferred from Fort Worth, Dean’s legal team utilized such remarks, saying that public declarations and media coverage would sway the jury.
Last week, Jim Lane, the defense counsel for Dean, passed away just before jury selection was to begin. District Judge George Gallagher finally moved ahead after years of delays, and after days of questioning prospective jurors, a panel of 12 jurors and two alternates were chosen on Friday. Eight were guys, six were women, and it didn’t seem like any of them were Black. Dean’s trial will wrap up early on the first day so that attendees can go to Lane’s burial.