The former Fort Worth Police Department officer who shot and killed Atatiana Jefferson during a welfare check in October 2019 addressed jurors in Tarrant County for several hours on Monday.
Aaron Dean, 36, does not deny that he fired the fatal shot that killed Jefferson, the 28-year-old Black woman as she was babysitting her then-8-year-old nephew. The defendant and his attorneys argued that his actions were justified and in self-defense.
Prosecutors say Dean did not act in self-defense and that he should have never fired his weapon. He stands accused of felony murder in the first degree. The state rested their case last week.
Taking the stand in his own defense, Dean said he thinks “this jury needs to hear from me, and hear the truth.”
On the night in question, Jefferson was playing video games with now-11-year-old Zion Carr. A neighbor called a non-emergency number to report that some doors of the house were open past 2:00 a.m. The child was the prosecution’s first witness and previously testified that the doors were open because they had burned hamburgers and wanted to air the house out.
Dean and his then-partner, FWPD Officer Carol Darch, arrived on the scene. The officers did not knock on the front door but instead walked around the outside of the property. The house was lit up inside. Eventually, Dean and his partner made their way through a gate into the backyard.
Dean then pointed his gun at a window.
“Put your hands up,” he shouted. “Show me your hands.”
Jefferson was shot and killed a few seconds after that. Neither of the two officers identified themselves as police officers.
Asked a question by his defense attorney about whether Jefferson’s silhouette took up most of the window, Dean answered, “Yes.”
“I thought we had a burglar, so I stepped back, straightened up, and drew my weapon and pointed it towards the figure,” he told jurors at another point in his over four hours worth of testimony. “I couldn’t see that person’s hands. And we’re taught that the hands, and it’s what’s in them, that kill; that we need to see the hands; we need to get people to show us their hands; and get control of those hands. So I drew my weapon intending to tell that person to show me their hands.”
Dean also testified that he saw Jefferson holding a gun:
I looked back after I got my light on and saw the silhouette again. And I was shouting at this time, shouting commands, ‘Put up your hands, show me your hands!’ And as I started to get that second phrase out, ‘Show me your hands’ I saw the silhouette. I was looking right down the barrel of a gun and when I saw the barrel of the gun pointed at me, I fired a single shot from my duty weapon, and immediately had the flash from the muzzle reflecting off the window and as my weapon recoiled the light was bouncing back in my face, so I couldn’t see. When my vision cleared then I observed the person we now know was Ms. Jefferson. I heard her scream and saw her fall like this. And I – I knew that I’d shot that person.
“I did see that weapon pointed at me,” Dean told jurors in response to another question from his defense attorney, moments after describing the shooting, about where, exactly, Jefferson’s gun was when he fired his own weapon. “The gun was pointed directly at me.”
Defense attorney Miles Brissette previously told jurors that Dean had seen a green laser from Jefferson’s gun trained on his client.
“That officer considered that to be deadly force against him and reacted accordingly, and tragically, Miss Jefferson lost her life,” Brissette said.
Darch previously testified that she never saw Jefferson’s gun, just the woman’s eyes in the window, “as big as saucers.”
Prosecutors grilled the defendant on several aspects of his testimony and actions.
“You chose not to knock on the front door,” Assistant Criminal District Attorney Dale Smith told Dean at one point.
“You don’t knock on doors or announce yourself during an open structure investigation or a potential burglary,” the defendant replied.
Smith and Dean then went back and forth for several minutes as to why the officer would have repeatedly used his flashlight around the outside of the house if he was so intent on not giving away his presence.
Dean said “police work” can depend on “balancing the risks.” He testified that he initially didn’t see anyone outside or in a parked car at the residence, so he used his flashlight.
“By shining a flashlight you are giving away your position, right?” the prosecutor asked.
“You can be, yes,” Dean said.
Smith also pressed the former officer on what he saw at the window before he fired the shot that killed Jefferson – specifically as to why he never told Darch that he saw the figure holding a gun.
“You never saw her hands?” the prosecutor asked. “All you saw was a gun?”
“I saw the gun,” Dean replied.
“Was it extended out?” Smith asked.
Dean said he wasn’t sure.
“You couldn’t even tell if she had the gun extended out pointed at you?” the prosecutor followed up.
“No, I couldn’t,” the defendant replied.
[Image at top via screengrab/Law&Crime Network]
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