The fatal shooting of a Texas woman by a police officer through a window at her home was “an unjustifiable act that never should’ve happened,” prosecutors said Monday during opening statements in the former officer's murder trial.
Aaron Dean, a white former Fort Worth police officer, is on trial in the 2019 killing of Atatiana Jefferson, a 28-year-old Black woman who was playing video games at home with her 8-year-old nephew.
"This is not a case about a drug deal gone bad or a robbery," Tarrant County prosecutor Ashlea Deener said Monday in opening statements. "This is a case about a Fort Worth police officer, a stranger to Atatiana, who shot through the back of her bedroom window in the middle of the night when she was in her home and should have been safe."
Dean fatally shot Jefferson after a concerned neighbor noticed a door had been left ajar and called a nonemergency police line. Jefferson, according to court documents, was up late that night playing video games and caring for her 8-year-old nephew, Zion Carr. According to police and body camera footage, Dean failed to identify himself before firing his weapon and striking Jefferson.
Dean pleaded not guilty Monday to the murder charge.
During opening arguments, prosecutors said Dean shot Jefferson through the window into her chest “not a second” after shouting, “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!”
Dean fired his weapon so quickly that Jefferson did not have time "to process and follow the commands," Deener said.
Zion, who is now 11, testified Monday that the screen doors were open after he and his aunt burned hamburgers they had planned to eat for dinner. The two then continued to play video games into the night.
Zion said his aunt pulled out her gun and kept it at her side after hearing noises outside, both of them unaware police had been called to the home.
The boy said he did not see or hear anything outside, but his aunt speculated the noises may have come from a raccoon.
Zion said he saw his aunt fall to the ground and begin “crying and shaking.” He was afraid, he testified, and wasn’t sure whether he was dreaming.
On cross-examination, Dean's lawyers questioned whether Zion had told a child case worker after the shooting that Jefferson had raised her gun toward the window.
At issue in the trial is whether Dean saw Jefferson's gun and whether he believed it was pointed at him. Prosecutors said Monday that evidence will show "he did not see the gun in her hand."
"This is not a circumstance where they’re staring at the barrel of a gun and he had to defend himself against that person, or to protect his partner," Deener said. "The evidence will support he did not see the gun in her hand. This is not a justification. This is not a self-defense case. This is murder."
Dean's attorney, Miles Brissette, said during opening statements that Dean saw a gun being raised, gave the command and fired.
"In that window he sees a silhouette," he said. "He doesn’t know if it’s a male or female; he doesn’t know the racial makeup of the silhouette. He sees it, he sees the green laser and the gun come up on him. He takes a half-step back, gives a command and fires his weapon."
Brissette said Dean reacted the way he did because of the information given to the officers when they responded to the call. He said Dean and another officer were treating the situation as an “open structure,” not a wellness check, and thus did not announce their presence.
Jefferson's death echoes that of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman fatally shot by police in March 2020 in her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment. Both shootings 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 prior to his arrest, was indicted by a Texas grand jury in December 2019 on a murder charge.
Jefferson graduated from Xavier University with a degree in chemistry. She returned home after college to help family with health issues and was planning to attend medical school.