Former Cop Sentenced For Killing Atatiana Jefferson In Her Home
On Oct. 12, 2019, Atatiana Jefferson was killed in her Fort Worth, Texas home by police officer Aaron Dean.
On Oct. 12, 2019, Atatiana Koquice Jefferson, a 28-year-old Black woman, was shot to death inside her Fort Worth, Texas, home by a white police officer.
Officer Aaron Dean, 38, arrived at Jefferson’s home with his police partner after a neighbor called a non-emergency police line to let them know that the doors were open at the house, according to CNN. That neighbor had been concerned for Jefferson’s safety and didn’t know that Jefferson had opened the doors and windows after accidentally burning food.
Jefferson and her nephew Zion, who was only eight years old at the time, were up late playing video games together. Jefferson never knew there were police officers at her home, but she and her nephew heard a noise outside.
When Dean and his police partner, Carol Darch, arrived at the home, they didn’t announce themselves as police officers. PEOPLE reported that body camera footage showed Dean and Darch walking around outside the house. Dean approached the first-floor window with a flashlight. He then raised his gun and shouted, "Put your hands up! Show me your hands!"
Dean, who still had never announced himself as a police officer, fired at Jefferson. He would later say in court that he saw Jefferson pointing a gun at him, but his police partner and Jefferson’s family members who witnessed the shooting said they never saw her pointing a gun at the officer.
According to CNN, Darch testified that she did not see Jefferson holding a gun and didn’t recall Dean ever saying that Jefferson had a gun.
On Oct. 14, 2019, Dean resigned from the Fort Worth Police Department, and he was arrested. He was later indicted for murder. The case went to trial, and Dean pleaded not guilty to the murder charges against him at court on Dec. 5, 2022.
“This is not a circumstance where they’re staring at the barrel of a gun, and he had to defend himself against that person or to protect his partner. The evidence will support he did not see the gun in her hand. This is not a justification. This is not a self-defense case. This is murder,” Tarrant County prosecutor Ashlea Deener said of the case during the trial.
Adarius Carr, Jefferson’s oldest brother, testified about his sister. He described her as a caring person who was so devoted to her family that she moved back home to take care of her nephew after the boy’s mother and grandmother were hospitalized with health problems. He also remembered her as a “flawless” student. She graduated from Xavier University in Louisiana with a degree in chemistry. Ultimately, Carr said that his sister wanted to become a doctor, a dream she had after being diagnosed with diabetes when she was a preteen, and she had plans of going to medical school, according to NBC News.
Jefferson's sister Ashley Carr gave a powerful victim impact statement. Carr called her sister "a beautiful flower just starting to bloom.” She also explained, "My sister did not do anything wrong. She was in her home, which should have been the safest place for her to be."
After the jury deliberated for 13 hours, Dean was found guilty of manslaughter on Dec. 15, 2022. Prosecutors then asked for the maximum sentence for manslaughter, which was up to 20 years, while the defense argued for probation. Dean was ultimately sentenced to 11 years, 10 months, and 12 days in prison.
After the sentencing, Carr reacted to the sentencing. "Would we want more time? Yes, we would. But that's what the jury decided,” she said. "This has been hard guys. These three years have been hard."
Lee Merritt, the attorney for Jefferson’s family, said the sentence was a relief, telling KDFW, "It wasn't exactly the justice we all thought Atatiana deserved, but it does represent a historic moment in Fort Worth and Tarrant County.”
This tragedy reignites calls for racial justice in law enforcement as it is one of many cases where police officers have killed Black people in their homes in the past few years. The murder of Jefferson occurred just months before the murder of Breonna Taylor, who was also killed by a police officer during a raid of her home, a case that gained national attention in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder.