A jury convicted former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean of manslaughter, a charge that faces Dean up to 20 years in prison for killing Atatiana Jefferson in 2019. Dean was acquitted of a murder charge.
Dean, who is white, responding to a non-emergency call from a neighbor, shot Jefferson, who was black, through an open window. Dean testified he had no choice but to shoot Jefferson after she pointed a gun at him, but his partner testified he never said anything about a gun on fire before firing.
The murder outraged members of the Fort Worth community, who pushed for Dean’s arrest shortly after the October 2019 killing. They got what they wanted when the Fort Worth Police Department released the body camera footage of the shooting and arrested Dean, 38, who left the police without speaking to investigators.
After Dean’s arrest, however, progress on the case slowed significantly due to the Covid-19 pandemic and health issues affecting Dean’s attorney.
The case finally went to trial last week and, after 13 hours of deliberation over two days, the Tarrant County jury issued a split decision for prosecutors on Thursday – finding Dean innocent of murder but guilty of manslaughter.
The main issue at stake in the trial was whether Jefferson was armed when Dean shot him. Dean claimed she was, but prosecutors said there was no evidence to support that claim. Dean said he only mentioned the gun to his partner, Officer Carol Darch, after seeing it on the ground after the shooting.
There were other major problems with the couple’s work: Body camera footage showed that Dean and Mrs. Darch did not correctly identify themselves as police officers when they arrived at the house and that Dean did not failed to administer first aid to Jefferson after shooting him.
Jefferson, who had been playing video games that night with his nephew, had left the door to his house open to air it out after burning burgers. Jefferson’s nephew Zion, eight, testified that she pulled out a gun because she believed the officers were intruders in her garden, although it was unclear from her testimony if she had pointed it out the window.
Dean’s conviction is notable in that the police are rarely found guilty of a crime when shooting people who are themselves armed.
Ms. Jefferson’s murder was a precursor to the police killings of black Americans that rocked the country the following year, including the murder of Breonna Taylor, who, like Ms. Jefferson, was shot and killed in her home.