A former Texas officer who fatally shot a Black woman through a window in her home in 2019 testified Monday that he thought a burglary was underway and saw a gun pointed at him, but later admitted to errors in his police work that day and said that he did not tell his partner about seeing a gun after the shooting and during the search of the house.
Aaron Dean, a white former Fort Worth police officer, is on trial for the killing of Atatiana Jefferson, a 28-year-old Black woman who had been playing video games at home with her 8-year-old nephew before she was shot to death. Dean shot and killed Jefferson while responding to her home after a concerned neighbor called a nonemergency line around 2 a.m. in October 2019 to say he noticed an open front door.
Dean took the stand in his own defense on Monday morning, saying that he thought he was responding to the scene of a burglary after seeing the home's front inner door open and objects "strewn all over the floor" inside. He said he had entered Jefferson’s backyard through a fence with his partner and approached the home, when he saw the silhouette of a person inside the home near a window.
"I thought we had a burglar and so I stepped back, straightened up and drew my weapon and then pointed it towards the figure," he said.
He said he could not see the person’s hands and began shouting for Jefferson to put up her hands and then saw a gun.
"I’m just looking right down the barrel of the gun and when I saw the barrel of that gun pointed at me, I fired a single shot from my duty weapon," he said.
Dean said that after he shot, he was briefly blinded by muzzle flash. "When my vision cleared — he said — then I observed the person that we now know is Miss Jefferson. I heard her scream and then saw her fall."
When asked by his attorney why he shot through the window as quickly as he did, Dean said, "We’re taught to meet deadly force with deadly force. We’re not taught that we have to wait."
During cross-examination, however, prosecutor R. Dale Smith questioned Dean’s account of what he saw through the window, asking how Jefferson was positioned and where he saw a gun before he fired. Smith asked Dean whether he had enough information and time to shoot into the home when only 1 minute and 17 seconds passed between when he turned on his camera, approached the house and shot Jefferson.
Dean conceded that he “never actually saw [Jefferson’s] hands” but said he saw a gun.
“You couldn’t tell if it was up in a raised position, ready to fire,” Smith asked.
“No,” Dean replied.
Dean also acknowledged that he did not announce himself as a police officer when he arrived, saying that he believed there was an active burglary at the scene and that it was "general practice" at the police department not to announce in such situations. He later admitted under questioning from Smith that he had made such announcements at least at one other burglary scene before then.
Prosecutors also went through a series of Dean’s actions that night and the choices he made, asking the former officer multiple times if his actions amounted to “good police work,” with Dean repeatedly answering, “no.”
Among those actions, he admitted to not telling his partner he had seen a gun or weapon immediately after he shot Jefferson or when they entered her home after the shooting.
Jefferson's shooting in 2019 led to widespread criticism and prompted calls for police accountability and racial justice in law enforcement.
Dean, who resigned from the Fort Worth Police Department before his arrest, was indicted by a Texas grand jury in December 2019 on a murder charge.
Jefferson graduated from Xavier University in Louisiana with a degree in chemistry. She returned home after college to help family with health issues and was planning to attend medical school.