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A day after Atatiana Jefferson was killed, protestors gather, police speak briefly and Mayor Price promises investigation

A day after the shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson, hundreds gathered near her house and marched through the streets of Fort Worth to demand answers and action.

FORT WORTH, Texas — Amid growing protests and calls to action, Fort Worth police officials remained tight-lipped about the shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson, a 28-year-old black woman who was killed when a white police officer fired through a bedroom window in her home Saturday. 

At a press conference Sunday afternoon, Fort Worth police spokesman Lt. Brandon O’Neil said the officer who fatally shot Jefferson will be interviewed Monday by the department’s major case unit, which investigates officer-involved shootings.

“The officer did not announce that he was a police officer prior to shooting,” O’Neil said. “What the officer observed and why he did not announce police will be addressed as the investigation continues.”

Interim Chief Ed Kraus is expected to speak publicly about the case Monday. 

During Sunday's brief press conference, O’Neil did not answer questions about why police released images of a gun in Jefferson’s bedroom, what those images were intended to convey, or what may have prompted the officer to fire his weapon.   

Officials did, however, confirm Jefferson's 8-year-old nephew was with her in the room when she was shot and killed. 

“The members of the department share your very real and valid concerns,” O’Neil said.

At a protest held later that day, Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price promised a third-party look at the police department's policies, and said the police department's investigation into the shooting is moving "swiftly."

On Saturday, one of Jefferson's neighbors called the non-emergency police line around 2:25 a.m. to ask for a welfare check on Jefferson's house near the 1200 block of East Allen Avenue, Fort Worth police said. 

Authorities also released the call that brought the police officers to Jefferson’s home early Saturday.

On that call, the neighbor tells the operator that his neighbor’s front doors have been open for several hours.

“I haven’t seen anybody moving around,” the neighbor said. “It’s not normal for them to have the doors open this time of night."

The operator asks, “Do you know if anyone is inside?”

“I’m not sure, both of the cars are there,” the neighbor responds.

The operator: “Are they usually home at this time?”

He explains that his neighbors are usually home, but it’s unusual for them to have both of their “front doors open this late for this long.”

The operator tells him, “We’ll have an officer come by there. They’ve already been dispatched now.”

Body-camera footage released by the department shows the officer standing outside the front door of the home before walking around the side of the house and opening a gate to the backyard. The officer was in the backyard when he turned toward the window and shouted. 

"Put your hands up. Show me your hands!" the officer yelled before firing once through the window, bodycam footage shows. 

Officials said the officer shot through the window "perceiving a threat." Jefferson died as a result. 

Sunday night, activists and protestors gathered near Jefferson's home in southeast Fort Worth for a candlelit vigil that quickly turned into a protest march.

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price was at the vigil, and told WFAA the city plans to hire a third-party investigator to look into department policies that led to the shooting. She said the city will be interviewing candidates for that position.

But, Price later clarified that the investigation into the shooting would be handled internally by the police department. She said that investigation is moving "swiftly."

In a live video of the protest, as soon as Price shows up on the scene, protestors start chanting, "Mayor Price, lock him up."

Price's remarks begin around the 24-minute mark of the video below. 

Price told reporters, "I didn't come here to speak. I came here to listen and to show support for the community."

In response to a question about what her message is, she said, "The message is we're working closely on this. It's a tragic situation." 

The crowd was not satisfied, but heard her response and called to have the officer arrested.

In response to another question, Price told a reporter that she has faith in the interim police chief Ed Kraus. 

"He has been incredibly transparent, open," she said. "He's devastated about this, and I believe he will do the right thing."

After just a few minutes, the mayor's security detail begins escorting her away. As she leaves, an unidentified person is heard saying, "He killed my cousin. Like seriously, you're going to leave, and you're not going to stand here and listen."

Around 7:40 p.m., the gathered protestors began to march down Allen Avenue chanting, "No justice! No peace!"

Attorney Lee Merritt was also at the protest, where he spoke to the crowd and urged them to "commit to change Fort Worth."

Merritt organized a GoFundMe for Jefferson and her family, which so far has raised more than $110,000.

Also on Sunday, the Black Empowerment Movement spoke in Fort Worth urging the Fort Worth Police Department to name the officer who shot Jefferson.

Later Sunday night, former Fort Worth police chief Joel Fitzgerald released a statement urging the Fort Worth Police Department to hold its officers accountable and to immediately order the mandatory recertification of all police officers in de-escalation, procedural justice and implicit bias tactics:

"The prayers of my entire family have been for Ms. Atatiana Smith [sic], her loved ones, and Mr. Jefferson [sic]. Just as we all should feel safe in our homes like Atatiana, neighbors who call the police department when they believe something is afoot should never have to second guess their calls for our help because responders act outside of their training.

"I urge department leadership to immediately order the mandatory recertification of all police officers in de-escalation, procedural justice and implicit bias. It is abundantly clear that since May 20th, 2019, we have taken significant steps backwards. "The way we've always done it," is neither proactive or acceptable anymore; every communitymember in every part of the city deserves our best. Officers across the county commonly close open garage doors and conduct welfare checks that yeild non-violent results. Having institutional control over the law enforcement agency is a must, especially when dealing with newer generations of officers who erroneously default to equipment over communications skills.

"As my attorney Stephen Kennedy has set forth in our pleadings, City of Fort Worth politicians are controlled by the local POA, state CLEAT entity, and a few deep-pocketed donors. Prospective candidates cannot get elected without their endorsement, a “machine politics” type of atmosphere that, here in the south, escalates racial conflict and facilitates public corruption. The evidence speaks for itself. The documentation concerning the City’s failures to comply with federal law governing access to CJIS is voluminous. Lucrative government contracts have been steered and awarded outside of a neutral and competitive bidding process, many times to the detriment of minority or small business owners. And as we heard today, policemen are not held accountable for their own criminal behavior, and the police heiarchy [sic] remains silent.

"In the span of just one month, a select few were finally able to see video of a Ft. Worth police officer improperly detain (arrest) an innocent black woman for no reason other than angering him. Was the white policeman held fully accountable for this false arrest? The answer is no. The Fort Worth Police Officers Association, led by their President Manny Ramirez, successfully lobbied the Interim Police Chief, earning the offending policeman a slap on the wrist.

"Yesterday, a different officer shoots an innocent woman in response to a welfare check call. In response we have been presented with blurred pictures of an alleged weapon, a five-minute press conference with no details from a lieutenant who to his chagrin, presented no solutions.

"During this time of crisis, where is the interim police chief? Where is POA President Manny Ramirez? Where is Mayor Price? Why weren’t they at Sunday’s press conference? Why was no substantive information provided? On May 19, 2019, when my department successfully rescued an abducted girl from a kidnapper, they raced to the microphone to seek credit and fame. Yet today, when our community needs them more than ever, they are noticeably and inexcusably absent. There is a vacuum of leadership and these individuals must be held accountable. They are, in a sense, accomplices because they facilitate a system that reinforces social stratification, inequality, and hostility. In just a few short months, we have become a city of hate. Our leaders must be held accountable."

Fitzgerald's attorney Stephen Kennedy said in a statement that Jefferson wouldn't have been killed had Fitzgerald still been head of the police department:

"I again demand that the City of Fort Worth reinstate Dr. Fitzgerald or grant him a public hearing concerning his termination in accordance with the City Charter for the City of Fort Worth. The City Attorney of Fort Worth must act. Failure to act in accordance with the law has led this City to chaos. It’s time to stop playing politics.

"Local editorial boards who purchase ink by the barrel and have unlimited airtime should join me in demanding that the City act in accordance with its Charter. If not now, when? If not us, who?

"Had Dr. Fitzgerald been reinstated months ago, Atatiana probably would be alive today, and the number of police shootings would not be in double digits."

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