The shooting death of a Texas woman by a police officer through a window in her home was ‘an unjustifiable act that should never have happened,’ prosecutors said Monday during opening statements in the state’s murder trial. former officer.
Aaron Dean, a white former Fort Worth police officer, is on trial for the 2019 murder of Atatiana Jefferson, a 28-year-old black woman who played video games at home with her 8-year-old nephew.
“This is not a drug dealing case gone wrong or a robbery,” Tarrant County District Attorney Ashlea Deener said in opening statements Monday. “This is a case involving a Fort Worth police officer, a stranger to Atatiana, who shot through her back bedroom window in the middle of the night while she was at home and should have been safe.”
Dean shot Jefferson after a concerned neighbor noticed a door had been left ajar and called a non-emergency police line. Jefferson, according to court documents, was up late at night playing video games and caring for his 8-year-old nephew, Zion Carr. According to police and body camera footage, Dean failed to identify himself before firing his gun and punching Jefferson.
Dean pleaded not guilty Monday to the murder charge.
During the opening arguments, prosecutors said Dean shot Jefferson through the window in his chest “not for a second” after he shouted, “Hands up! Show me your hands!”
Dean fired his gun so quickly that Jefferson didn’t have time “to process and follow orders,” Deener said.
Zion, who is now 11, testified on Monday that the screen doors were open after he and his aunt burned burgers they had planned to eat for dinner. The two then continued playing video games into the night.
Zion said his aunt pulled out her gun and kept it by her side after hearing noises outside, both unaware that police had been called to the house.
The boy said he didn’t see or hear anything outside, but his aunt speculated that the noises may have come from a raccoon.
Zion said he saw his aunt fall to the ground and start “crying and shaking.” He was scared, he testified, and wasn’t sure he was dreaming.
On cross-examination, Dean’s attorneys questioned whether Zion told a children’s social worker after the shooting that Jefferson had raised his gun to the window.
What is at stake in the trial is whether Dean saw Jefferson’s gun and whether he believed it was pointed at him. Prosecutors said Monday that evidence will show “he did not see the gun in his hand.”
“It’s not a circumstance where they’re looking down the barrel of a gun and he had to defend himself against that person or protect his partner,” Deener said. “The evidence will support that he didn’t see the gun in his hand. That’s not vindication. That’s not self-defense. That’s murder.”
Dean’s attorney, Miles Brissette, said in opening statements that Dean saw a gun being raised, gave the order, and fired.
“In this window he sees a silhouette,” he said. “He doesn’t know if it’s male or female, he doesn’t know the racial makeup of the figure. He sees it, he sees the green laser and the gun pointing at him. He steps back half a step, give an order and fire his weapon.”
Brissette said Dean reacted the way he did because of the information provided to officers when they answered the call. He said Dean and another officer were treating the situation as an “open structure”, not a health check, and therefore did not announce their presence.
Jefferson’s death echoes that of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old black woman shot dead by police in March 2020 in her apartment in Louisville, Kentucky. Both shootings drew widespread criticism and prompted calls for police accountability and racial justice in law enforcement.
Dean, who resigned from the Fort Worth Police Department before his arrest, was indicted by a Texas grand jury in December 2019 for murder.
Jefferson graduated from Xavier University with a degree in chemistry. She returned home from college to help her family with health issues and planned to go to medical school.