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Fort Worth residents accuse police department of ‘systemic racism’ after Atatiana Jefferson murder

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More than 500 people packed Fort Worth city hall and called for justice and police reform following the murder of Atatiana Jefferson, a black woman shot dead inside her home by a white police officer. 

City council members met for the first time since Jefferson’s death on Tuesday night, the day after Officer Aaron Dean, 34, was arrested and charged with the 28-year-old’s murder. 

The shooting early Saturday morning was met with fierce outrage from the community that has seen seven seven people gunned down by police since June.    

The Fort Worth Police Department was quick to condemn Dean’s actions and insisted that they did not represent the force as a whole.

Jefferson’s family and Fort Worth residents have charged that the incident was just one example of deep-seated racism and a ‘brutal culture of policing’. 

The council chambers hit capacity at 350 and roughly 200 more people spilled out onto the sidewalk, shouting heated protests against city officials and the police force.  

Sixty people signed up to speak during the meeting, where Mayor Betsy Price repeatedly threatened to remove disruptive attendees as chants of ‘we don’t feel safe’ erupted from the audience. 

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More than 500 people descended on Fort Worth city hall as city officials held the first council meeting since the murder of Atatiana Jefferson, a black woman shot dead inside her home by a white police officer. Protesters are seen outside the building

More than 500 people descended on Fort Worth city hall as city officials held the first council meeting since the murder of Atatiana Jefferson, a black woman shot dead inside her home by a white police officer. Protesters are seen outside the building 

The city council chambers hit full capacity at 350 while 200 more people stood outside on the sidewalk. More than 60 people signed up to speak at the meeting

The city council chambers hit full capacity at 350 while 200 more people stood outside on the sidewalk. More than 60 people signed up to speak at the meeting

Jefferson was shot and killed inside her home on Saturday

Dean was dispatched to Jefferson's home after a neighbor called to report that her front door was open

Jefferson (left) was shot and killed by Dean (right) early Saturday morning when the officer was dispatched to her home after a neighbor called to report that her front door was open

Several of the speakers said that they could no longer take pride in Fort Worth.

‘How can we feel safe if we die in our homes?’ Jamaal Johnson asked the council. 

‘I think what we need is for you to acknowledge that this is a systemic, racism issue,’ another person said. 

Many called for the implementation of a police oversight board and more thorough training for Fort Worth officers.   

‘Mayor Price, this is an emergency that will require much more than a letter that says all the right things and tells the citizens of Fort Worth how they need to react,’ a speaker said.

Some demanded the resignations of City Manager David Cooke and Assistant City Manager Jay Chapa, accusing the leaders of being complicit in the unfair treatment of predominantly minority communities. 

Speakers demanded justice for Jefferson's death and called for police reform

Speakers demanded justice for Jefferson’s death and called for police reform

Mayor Betsy Price (center) repeatedly threatened to remove disruptive attendees as chants of 'we don't feel safe' erupted from the audience

Mayor Betsy Price (center) repeatedly threatened to remove disruptive attendees as chants of ‘we don’t feel safe’ erupted from the audience

The speakers also repeated calls for an independent investigation into Jefferson’s murder. 

Dean and his partner were dispatched to Jefferson’s home around 2.30am Saturday after a neighbor called a non-emergency police line to report that her front door was open. 

Jefferson was playing video games with her eight-year-old nephew when they heard a noise outside and she got up to investigate, fearing that there was a prowler in her yard.   

Body camera footage showed Dean shining a flashlight into the back of the home as Jefferson approached the bedroom window. He shouted at her to put her hands up, without identifying himself as law enforcement.  

A split-second later, the officer fired a single shot, killing Jefferson.  

A warrant for Dean’s arrest quoted Jefferson’s nephew as saying that she picked up a handgun when she went to investigate noises outside that turned out to be the two officers. 

The bodycam video indicated that Dean could not have seen the gun in her hand before firing due to the glare from his flashlight. 

Dean’s partner, identified in the warrant as Officer Darch, said she could only see Jefferson’s face – not her gun – through the window when her partner fired his weapon.  

During the council meeting citizens called for police to release full bodycam footage from all officers on the scene.

They also asked for Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus to bring charges of assault with a deadly weapon and child endangerment against Dean.  

Critics have alleged that the officers responded to the call about the open door as if it were a burglary because it came from a neighborhood with predominantly black residents. 

Fort Worth Police released body camera footage of Dean firing the fatal shot through Jefferson's window. Investigators said the officer did not identify himself as police beforehand

Fort Worth Police released body camera footage of Dean firing the fatal shot through Jefferson’s window. Investigators said the officer did not identify himself as police beforehand

Investigators also released blurry photos of the gun Jefferson was allegedly holding when she was shot. Her nephew said she grabbed the gun after hearing noises that she thought was a trespasser outside her home

Investigators also released blurry photos of the gun Jefferson was allegedly holding when she was shot. Her nephew said she grabbed the gun after hearing noises that she thought was a trespasser outside her home

At a press conference Tuesday, Kraus stated that there was ‘absolutely no excuse’ for Dean’s actions and promised that he would be held accountable. 

The police chief fought back tears as he expressed deep regret over the shooting on behalf of himself and his officers, insisting that it was ‘not indicative of the work they do every day’.

‘Human life is a precious thing, it should not have been taken from Ms Jefferson. This incident has eroded the trust we have built with our community. We must now work even harder to ensure that trust is restored,’ Kraus said. 

‘To the citizens and residents of our city, we understand your frustration and disappointment. I, too, am frustrated and disappointed in what occurred and the officer’s actions. 

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Fort Worth Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus nearly broke down at a Tuesday press conference about Saturday's shooting. He expressed deep regret over the shooting on behalf of himself and his officers, insisting that it was 'not indicative of the work they do every day'

Fort Worth Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus nearly broke down at a Tuesday press conference about Saturday’s shooting. He expressed deep regret over the shooting on behalf of himself and his officers, insisting that it was ‘not indicative of the work they do every day’

‘We never want an officer’s response to a call to end in a loss of life. We have a great many officers who work extremely hard every day, they do this with great sacrifice, and with a servant’s heart. 

‘I ask you please, do not let the actions of one officer reflect on the other 1,700.’    

Kraus said the department was considering bringing in a third party group to evaluate practices, policies and training ‘to make sure we are above best practice behavior’. 

He became emotional when a reporter asked about morale among the other officers in the wake of Saturday’s shooting and the [bitter] community response. 

Kraus said every officer he’s spoken to has agreed with the actions taken against Dean. 

‘The officers are hurting. I’ve been out there on patrol, and since this occurred, the officers come up and hug,’ he said before trailing off. 

‘It’s very emotional because the officers try hard every day to try to make this city better. They’re out there trying to build these relationships. 

‘I likened it to a bunch of ants building an anthill and someone comes along with a hose and washes it away and you have to start from scratch.’ 

Kraus appeared to be on the brink of tears as he abruptly ended the press conference and left the podium. 

A Fort Worth police detective, JC Williams, reacted to Jefferson’s death in a Facebook post this week, calling for his colleagues to apologize for the murder and accept blame for their role in officer-involved shootings like hers.  

‘There are NOT two sides to this story and this is not an “us vs. them” situation,’ Williams wrote. ‘She, her nephew, the neighbor [are victims]. These are the ones that any true cop feels for and wants to protect.  

‘Our team screwed up. Saying things like “There’s always one bad apple” doesn’t help right now. Say “I’m sorry” and because of this I will be better and take responsibility to make others better.’

Williams acknowledged that cops have to make quick decisions, but said this is their opportunity to recognize a bad one.  

‘People won’t ever understand what you experience, but it doesn’t matter,’ he wrote. ‘He got it wrong and we have to admit it and we can’t tolerate it.’

Jefferson's loved ones have demanded justice for the 28-year-old's 'senseless' murder

Jefferson’s loved ones have demanded justice for the 28-year-old’s ‘senseless’ murder

The family held a press conference on Monday before Dean was arrested. Jefferson's older sisters Ashley and Amber Carr are seen alongside the family's lawyer, Lee Merritt

The family held a press conference on Monday before Dean was arrested. Jefferson’s older sisters Ashley and Amber Carr are seen alongside the family’s lawyer, Lee Merritt

Jefferson’s loved ones spoke at a press conference on Monday before Dean was charged, sharing their heartbreak over her death and calling for justice. 

The family’s attorney, Lee Merritt, opened by stating that the shooting was ‘not a one-off’ or a ‘bad luck incident from an otherwise sound department’. 

‘The Fort Worth Police Department is one of the deadliest in the United States. They’re in need of serious systematic reform,’ Merritt said.

‘We are asking that the federal government comes in and takes a conscious look at the policies and procedures that allow something like this to happen.

Merritt continued: ‘This was a wellness call. It’s beyond me to begin to understand what kind of police force responds to a wellness call with the equivalent of SWAT. 

‘This department and their officers violated not only the rights of Tay Jefferson and her family, but they just made common sense mistakes.’

He noted that as the officers surveyed the property they passed two open doors but did not announce themselves as law enforcement. 

He alleged that they did not have probable cause to enter the backyard based on what the neighbor had told them on the non-emergency call.   

‘They created a deadly situation and they responded in a way that is not unique to the city of Fort Worth,’ Merritt said. 

Aaron Dean (pictured) was arrested for the murder of 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson on Monday night

Dean resigned hours before his arrest on Monday and was released from jail on $200,000 bond. He is seen in his mugshot

‘In the last six months they’ve had 10 officer-involved shootings, seven officer-involved deaths. That’s more than most nations – for one city in Texas. That represents a serious problem that must be addressed. 

‘This family is calling for the firing of this officer. That’s the least we could expect. They’re calling for this officer to be vigorously prosecuted, to be appropriately sentenced. 

‘The investigation should be handled by someone other than the Fort Worth Police Department, specifically the Department of Justice, the FBI, or worst case scenario, the local sheriff’s department. Anyone other that the city of Fort Worth, which is clearly incompetent to investigate itself, should be called in.’

Dean, who joined the force in April 2018, resigned hours before his arrest on Monday and was released from jail on $200,000 bond. 

He has refused to be interviewed by investigators.

The officer’s attorney, Jim Lane, has declined media requests for comment. 

Dean’s legal bills will be footed by Texas’ largest police union, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, according to Charley Wilkison, the group’s executive director.

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