In the aftermath of Saturday’s killing of Atatiana Jefferson by a Fort Worth police officer, questions remain unanswered about what officers were told before responding to a call from a neighbor to check on Jefferson and her nephew at their home, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
When Jefferson’s neighbor, James Smith, called the police nonemergency line because he saw Jefferson’s door open after 2 a.m., police seemed to respond as if they assumed they were responding to a burglary, although Smith gave no indication of such activity on the call.
Instead of knocking on the door to check on Jefferson, the officers circled the home, resulting in one officer shooting and killing Jefferson through a window without even identifying himself and after giving her no more than a second to comply with his demand for her to put her hands up.
Here’s the analysis from Mike Benza, a law instructor at Case Western Reserve University who specializes in Fourth Amendment issues. From the Star-Telegram:
“It’s difficult to imagine that the officer goes sneaking around a house on a welfare check. It’s hard to justify that based on what the neighbor said. This was not a 911 call; the neighbor said he called the non-emergency line. So this officer seems to be handling it more of a breaking and entering with a suspect versus a ‘my neighbor’s door is open’ call.”
Smith called police because the front door to Jefferson’s home had been open for several hours, and the lights were on, which was unusual for such a late hour. The lights were on and there were cars in the driveway.
“…the front doors have been open since about 10 o’clock, I haven’t seen anybody moving around. It’s not normal for them to have both of the doors open,” Smith told police on the call, according to the recording released by the Fort Worth Police Department. Here’s the audio:
Fort Worth police release audio of non-emergency call that preceded fatal shooting
Although a statement from the Fort Worth Police Department referred to it as an “open structure” call, the police call sheet from Saturday lists it as a burglary call, despite a lack of evidence that there was ever any reason to believe a burglary had taken place. Fort Worth police have not clarified this matter.
Jefferson and her 8-year-old nephew were up playing video games in the home, and they had the doors open (with the screen doors closed) so that fresh air could flow through the home, according to Lee Merritt, the family’s attorney.
Around 2:30 a.m., Jefferson heard noise in the backyard — noise from the police officers who were exploring the premises, which she had no knowledge of. That’s when an officer, allegedly “perceiving a threat,” fatally shot her.
Fort Worth police release video after officer shoots woman in her home
Fort Worth police released a photo of a gun they said was found in Jefferson’s home, although it is not clear at this point whether they believe Jefferson was wielding the gun at the time she was shot.
Jefferson’s family is calling for the officer — who was identified Monday as Aaron Dean — to be fired and prosecuted. Dean resigned Monday morning, shortly before he was to be fired, Fort Worth police interim Chief Ed Kraus said.