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Timeline: Three years later, Fort Worth officer Aaron Dean found guilty of manslaughter in shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson

After more than 1,100 days since Oct. 12, 2019, there is now a clearer picture of what happened that day.

FORT WORTH, Texas — More than three years have passed since James Smith asked police to check on his neighbor, and the blue home on East Allen Avenue was wrapped in crime scene tape after Aaron Dean killed Atatiana Jefferson.

This week, a Tarrant County jury found Dean guilty of manslaughter in  Jefferson's death after five days of testimony. 

During the trial various witnesses from both the prosecution and defense took the stand. Among them, Jefferson's now 11-year-old nephew Zion Carr, Dean's ex-partner Carol Darch and several others. Dean also took the stand himself in an attempt to clear his name. 

Dean was charged with murder, but the judge offered the option to consider a lesser charge of manslaughter. He now faces two to 20 years in prison once the sentencing phase begins Friday, Dec. 16. 

After more than 1,100 days since Oct. 12, 2019, there is now a clearer picture of what happened that day.

What happened

At 2:25 a.m., Jefferson’s neighbor James Smith called a non-emergency line asking police to make sure Jefferson was ok.

“They’re usually home but they’ve never had both of the front doors open,” Smith said on the call. “It’s not normal for them to have both the doors open this late for that long.”

“I explained on the call there wasn’t any type of violence going on, any time of arguments going on,” Smith would say in a later interview. “It was simply a concern for my neighbor.”

Officer Aaron Dean arrived at the home at 2:29 a.m.

His body camera video shows the 36-year-old officer, who had just started a year earlier in April, first look through the front door, then walk to the side. Both screen doors were closed but the wood doors were open.

Inside, Jefferson, who had moved into the home to take care of her ailing mother, was playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew, Zion.

About one minute after first getting to the home, Dean gets to the back, never announcing his presence or that he was a police officer. Court documents said Atatiana heard someone creeping in her backyard, grabbed her gun and opened the blinds.

“Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” Dean shouted quickly.

Less than one second after he told Jefferson to show her hands, Dean fired. The single shot killed Atatiana Jefferson.

The officer who was dispatched with Dean only saw “Jefferson’s face through the window” when Dean shot once into the house, the warrant said.

“Nobody looked at the video and said there’s any doubt that this officer acted inappropriately,” then-Police Chief Ed Kraus said in a press conference.

“People say, ‘James, it’s not your fault, it’s not your fault, but I made a call,” Smith said “I made the call because I thought they were going to do what I called them to do: check on my neighbor.”

In its first press release, Fort Worth police shared photos of Jefferson’s gun along with the body camera video, but the department and former Mayor Betsy Price later called that a mistake since Jefferson was in her own home.

“The gun is irrelevant,” Price said. “She was in her own home, caring for her 8-year-old nephew.”

Dean never gave police investigators any reason why he fired his gun. Kraus, who stepped down at the end of 2020, said Dean resigned before he could be fired.

“If the officer had not resigned, I would’ve fired him for several violations including our use of force policy,” Kraus said.

Dean's arrest

Oct. 14, two days after the killing, Dean was arrested for the shooting and released on a $200,000 bond just three hours later. He was later formally charged with murder.

“She was in her own place and shot and killed her,” Dr. Michael Bennett of the Tarrant County Local Organizing Committee said. “That’s not only unacceptable. That’s murder.”

The shooting occurred just two weeks after Amber Guyger was sentenced to 10 years in prison for murdering Botham Jean in his apartment, and 28-year-old Jefferson was the sixth person Fort Worth police killed in a five-month span in 2019.

For weeks, frustrated and frightened community members filled council meetings and city streets to protest.

Three weeks after the shooting, police released Dean’s discipline documents and initial job interview with Fort Worth PD.

“I wanted to serve my fellow citizens in a very up-close and personal way,” Dean said when asked why he wanted to job.

Later in the interview Dean answers quickly when asked if he could kill.

“No problem,” Dean said.

In the same interview, Dean is asked about a Class C misdemeanor for “simple assault.” He admitted to touching the breast of a woman while he was a student at the University of Texas at Arlington. He pleaded no contest, received a citation and paid a fine.

"The previous simple assault charge was a Class C misdemeanor, and it was given significant scrutiny during the hiring process," Fort Worth police officials said in a statement about the previous charge.

The aftermath

After Jefferson's death, the city hired police monitor Kim Neal. Her hiring came not from Jefferson’s death but stemmed from issues following the controversial arrest of a Fort Worth mother in 2016. 

Through the summer of 2020, Jefferson’s name was again shouted on Fort Worth’s streets during protests over the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

In March of 2021, Dean was briefly in court for a motion hearing. Then, in the summer and fall, Jefferson’s family filed lawsuits against the city, Dean and others including one that asks for $10 million in damages.

“Her father called this shooting senseless,” Kraus said. “I certainly have not been able to make sense of why she had to lose her life.”

The case was delayed again in June when Judge David Hagerman was recused from the case after Dean’s attorneys alleged bias.

Now, it’s been more than three years since James Smith was worried about his neighbor.

“I’ve prayed and I’ve cried,” he said. “Now I’m going to fight and I’m ready.”

It’s been more than three years since Atatiana Jefferson’s family saw her for the last time.

“We all just want justice for our loved one,” her sister Ashley Carr said. “We never had a chance to grieve. It’s just like it’s so much.”

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