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Fort Worth's chief of police breaks silence on Aaron Dean trial and death of Atatiana Jefferson in one-on-one interview

Chief Neil Noakes talks about fighting crime, his police advisory board, diversity, and what he would say to Atatiana Jefferson's nephew Zion Carr

FORT WORTH, Texas — Fort Worth Police Chief Neil Noakes marks two years as the city's top cop.

He's had to deal with months of tough situations, some of which he inherited with his promotion. His two years have been filled with officer-involved shootings, incident after incident forcing him to terminate officers for misconduct; a high-profile murder trial involving a former Fort Worth officer charged in a deadly shooting; and clashes over a community advisory board to monitor police activity where he hand-picked people to serve. 

After weeks of asking for a sitdown, the chief sat down with WFAA's Scoop Jefferson for an exclusive one-on-one interview. During the interview, Noakes candidly shared how he's desperately working to change the department's reputation in the eyes of the people they've sworn to protect and serve.

"We want the community to trust us. We want the community to know that we're not trying to hide anything," said Noakes.  

The Death of Atatiana Jefferson

For the first time since the conviction of former FWPD Officer Aaron Dean the chief broke his silence about the 2019 shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson.

Noakes is among those who the judge presiding over former Fort Worth officer Dean's murder trial put a gag order on until after the verdict.

Dean was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to more than 11 years in prison. 

Two months after the guilty verdict, the chief talked about what he would say to Zion Carr, Jefferson's nephew who was with her when she was shot by Dean. He is the only witness to the shooting and was just 8-years-old at the time. Carr testified during the trial. 

"I’d give him a hug first," said Noakes, "First thing I’d do. He’s an amazing young man, he’s been through so much and even a more recent tragedy."

Carr's mother, Amber Carr, died just weeks after the verdict. She had congestive heart failure. 

Noakes said, "I would tell him I loved him. We don’t want him to be afraid of us. We want him to know we’re here for him always. We’re sorry about what happened. We’re so sorry he had to experience that."  

Officer misconduct

Since becoming chief, Noakes has fired 16 out of the 33 officers he's disciplined because of their conduct. 

Two of those officers were reinstated after arbitration.  

"No one dislikes a bad cop more than a good officer," Noakes said, "There is certain conduct that just can't be excused."

Under Noakes, the department releases videos of the shootings to the public. The videos, however, are edited.  

When we asked why, Noakes gave this explanation: "At times there are things in there that need to be protected, whether it is a citizen whose identity needs to be protected. We've got to protect our witnesses to make sure they are not in any kind of danger."

Community advisory board

During a recent presentation to the Fort Worth City Council, FWPD Assistant Chief Robert Alldredge shared that the chief's plan is to reduce violent crime by 10% over the next 12 months. That includes violent crimes that involve young people in Fort Worth. Noakes recently responded to the scene of a deadly shooting outside a fast-food restaurant near a Fort Worth high school that involved teenagers. 

"I’m angry, there’s no reason for any young person, a student in high school to lose their life at a young age," said Noakes.

Noakes shared that transparency is his goal for Fort Worth PD.  

When city council members voted down the idea of a police community review board Noakes presented the council with his own community advisory board with a diverse list of people he recruited to serve on that board. 

However, after his presentation at a public council meeting downtown at City Hall, several council members rejected his plan and argued such a board must remain independent of police to hold the department accountable.  

"Fleshing out everything about the board will not happen until the board comes together. I want the board to be a part of determining the community should have a say in what they want this to look like."

Noakes also wants the racial makeup of Fort Worth PD and his command staff to reflect the city. It's a far cry, he admits, from the past.  

"Look at old photos of the Fort Worth police department. What are you going to see? You will see a lot of professional white males that went out and did the job the best they knew how. But that's about all you saw," said Noakes. "There was no diversity."

Since becoming the top cop, Noakes has appointed Fort Worth PD's first African American Woman Commander Monica Martin, and the department’s first-ever Asian American Commander Jason Kim.  

But even with the changes and accountability standards Noakes has put in place, he shares that when it comes to regaining the public's confidence and trust they have a lot of work to do, especially after the impact of the death of Atatiana Jefferson. 

"We had been building community relationships, gaining community trust and building those engagement opportunities, and it was wonderful. Then, it was as if someone came with a water hose and washed it all away," said Noakes.  “We're doing everything we can to maintain legitimacy, credibility and respect."

The police chief remains optimistic and believes in restoring the police-community relationship in Fort Worth. He has challenges not only from the community but also inside his own department by getting the hundreds of officers to see the same goals for the future.

"I've got to set that vision," said Noakes. 

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