FORT WORTH, Texas — Three years after he shot and killed Atatiana Jefferson in her own home, police officer Aaron Dean was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 11 years, 10 months and 12 days in prison. He will have to serve at least half of the sentence before becoming eligible for parole.
The trial was delayed several times, but the persistence of her family and support from the community were finally able to win this conviction. The jury took about 13 hours to reach the verdict.
On Oct. 12, 2019, Dean and another officer responded after a neighbor noticed Jefferson’s doors were open and called police around 2:55 a.m. Jefferson was with Zion Carr, her 8-year-old nephew, playing video games. Carr testified that he and his aunt had opened the doors to let smoke out after burning some hamburgers. When she heard a noise in the backyard, Jefferson grabbed her handgun from her purse.
Prosecutors explained Jefferson had the right to self-defense. They said Dean never identified himself as a police officer and never said he saw Jefferson had a gun until he found it after he shot her.
The defense lawyer argued that Dean thought a burglary might be in process and claimed he saw Jefferson point a gun at him through her bedroom window.
Angered at her killing, hundreds joined a vigil in front of the house the next day, and hundreds more turned out for a Fort Worth City Council meeting to demand something be done. The following day Dean resigned from the police force and was charged with murder.
Several dozen members of the community, along with this reporter, gathered outside the courtroom to wait for the jury to render a verdict and set the sentence. “Black people are not safe in Fort Worth,” said Patrice Jones, a founder of the Southside Community Garden who organized the painting of a mural to honor Jefferson. “The police target Black people in 55% of their shootings but we are 18% of the population.”
Tamara Neal, an activist with the Texas Organizing Project, said, “We have never seen a white officer go to jail for killing a Black woman. We have turned a corner if we put pressure to get the job done.”