Lawyer for slain woman’s family says Fort Worth police should not be investigating themselves

FORT WORTH, Texas — A lawyer for the family of a woman who was fatally shot inside her Fort Worth, Texas, home by a police officer said an outside agency should be brought in to investigate the killing.

“We don’t think that Fort Worth police should be investigating it on their own,” attorney Lee Merritt told CNN Sunday, Oct. 13. He said police reached out to his clients, but they’d rather talk with independent investigators about the shooting.

Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was killed around 2:30 a.m. Saturday after a neighbor called dispatchers to report the woman’s front door was open, police said.

James Smith, Jefferson’s neighbor, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram he called a non-emergency police number when he saw her doors open and lights on in the early morning hours.

The officers were searching the perimeter of the woman’s home when they saw a person standing inside near a window and one of them opened fire, killing her, police said.

At a news conference Sunday, police spokesman Lt. Brandon O’Neil said the officer did not identify himself as a police officer before shooting.

Jefferson’s 8-year-old nephew was inside the house at the time, O’Neil said. Merritt said Jefferson was playing video games with the boy.

O’Neil said the officer who fired the shots would be interviewed on Monday by the department’s major cases unit.

Some body camera footage released

Hours after the shooting, police released a heavily edited version of the officer’s body camera footage. The nearly two-minute video showed officers walking outside the home with flashlights for a few minutes before one of them yelled, “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” and shots his weapon through a window.

“The Fort Worth Police Department is releasing available body camera footage to provide transparent and relevant information to the public as we are allowed within the confines of the Public Information Act and forthcoming investigation,” police said.

In a statement, police said the officers entered the home and gave the woman medical treatment, but she died at the scene.

Police did not name the officer, who joined the department in April 2018. The officer was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

‘I’m shaken. I’m mad. I’m upset’

Smith, the neighbor who called police, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he knew Jefferson was home with her nephew when he saw the doors of the house open, and was concerned about them.

He told the newspaper he was trying to be a good neighbor and called authorities so they could check on Jefferson.

“I’m shaken. I’m mad. I’m upset. And I feel it’s partly my fault,” he told the news outlet. “If I had never dialed the police department, she’d still be alive.”

This was the ninth police-involved shooting in 2019 by Fort Worth, Texas police. Seven of those were fatal, according to O’Neil.

The department said that it “shares the deep concerns of the public and is committed to completing an extremely thorough investigation of this critical police incident to its resolution.”

The Fort Worth Police Officers Association issued a statement Sunday that said, in part: “Any loss of life is tragic, but the reported circumstances surrounding this incident are heartbreaking. … We are urging the Forth Worth Police Department to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation, and through that investigation we hope to gain clarity and understanding of what exactly transpired.”

‘Put your hands up! Show me your hands!’

Officers responded to the woman’s home after dispatchers received a call around 2:25 a.m. from a person saying his or her neighbor’s front door was open, police said.

Body camera video showed when the officers first arrived at the house, the door was open and the lights were on, but no one could be seen.

The officers then walked around the home and into the dark holding a flashlight. At some point, one of them quickly approached a window with his weapon drawn.

Within seconds, the officer yelled, “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” and fired through the window. He did not identify himself as a police officer before firing his weapon.

The officer drew his weapon and fired one shot after “perceiving a threat,” police said. The officers found a firearm when they entered the room, the department’s statement said.

The video released by police showed two mostly blurred clips that appeared to be from inside the home, showing a firearm.

At the Sunday news conference, a reporter asked O’Neil if Jefferson was holding that handgun when the officer shot. O’Neil declined to answer.

CNN requested the unedited body camera footage, an incident report, and dispatch audio from the dispatch call that prompted the response, but a police spokesperson said nothing additional would be released at this time.

‘You know, you want to see justice’

Merritt, a civil rights lawyer, told CNN that Jefferson was a 2014 graduate of Xavier University with a bachelor of science degree in biology. She worked in pharmaceutical sales and had moved into her ailing mother’s home to take care of her. She had three siblings.

“It’s another one of those situations where the people that are supposed to protect us are actually not here to protect us,” Jefferson’s sister, Amber Carr, told CNN affiliate KTVT. “You know, you want to see justice, but justice don’t bring my sister back.”

Merritt drew a parallel to another high-profile fatal police shooting in the region.

“Like most people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, they were following the Amber Guyger trial fairly closely and were familiar with the issues at hand with the use of force by a police officer,” he said.

Guyger was a Dallas police officer who walked into her neighbor’s apartment, thinking it was her own, and shot and killed the man. She was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison. Merritt represents the family of the slain man, Botham Jean.

Merritt has started a “Justice For Atatiana Jefferson” Gofundme page.

“There was no reason for her to be murdered,” the page says. “None.”

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