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‘Is that good police work?’: Aaron Dean faces sharp questioning from prosecution in his murder trial

Aaron Dean, a white man with short reddish-brown hair, sits on a witness stand. He draws his hand up to his forehead with his eyes shut. He's wearing a blue suit with a green, blue and white striped tie.
Amanda McCoy
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Aaron Dean reacts while while being cross examined by Assistant Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney Dale Smith on Monday, Dec. 12, 2022, in Fort Worth. Dean, a former Fort Worth police officer, is accused of fatally shooting Atatiana Jefferson in 2019 during an open structure call.

Aaron Dean is a former Fort Worth police officer charged with murder for shooting and killing Atatiana Jefferson while on duty in 2019.

Former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean gave himself a “B” grade for his response to the call where he fatally shot Atatiana Jefferson, and he declined to change that grade after admitting to some "bad police work" under the prosecution’s questioning.

Dean was indicted for murder after he shot Jefferson through her bedroom window on Oct. 12, 2019, while responding to a call about open doors at her home in the early hours of the morning. Dean’s defense attorneys argue Dean shot in self-defense, while the prosecution claims his negligence as an officer led to murder.

Dean took the stand on Monday to give his version of events. A "mess" inside the house made Dean and his partner think there was a burglary in progress, Dean said. Without identifying themselves as police, Dean and Officer Carol Darch went around the house to the backyard, where Dean saw a silhouette in 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. “I couldn’t see that person’s hands, and we’re taught that it’s the hands and what’s in them that kill. We need to see the hands."

While shouting at the silhouette to put their hands up, Dean saw a gun pointed at him through the window, he said. He fired less than a second after giving that command, body camera footage shows.

"We’re taught to meet deadly force with deadly force. We’re not taught that we have to wait,” Dean said.

There was no burglary. Jefferson was up late playing video games with her then 8-year-old nephew, Zion Carr, who testified last week that his aunt pulled a gun out of her purse when she heard a strange noise in the backyard. The prosecution has said there is no evidence Dean could see Jefferson’s gun through the window.

Zion Carr, an 11-year-old Black boy wearing a suit and tie, sits at the witness stand in a courtroom.
Amanda McCoy
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Zion Carr, 11, testifies during the murder trial of former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean on Monday, December 5, 2022. Carr was Atatiana Jefferson’s nephew and present when she was shot and killed by Dean in 2019.

After firing his gun, Dean went into the house and found Jefferson on the floor of her bedroom, with Zion there. Dean still thought he was looking at a burglary in progress, he said.

“I'm thinking, who brings a kid to a burglary? What is going on?" Dean said, speaking through tears.

One thing Dean did not mention: the green pointing laser from Jefferson’s gun. One of his defense attorneys, Miles Brissette, told the jury during opening statements that Dean could see the laser trained on him before he shot Jefferson.

Prosecutor Dale Smith took Dean through a relentless cross examination, where he peppered Dean with questions about the police procedures Dean broke or the dangerous mistakes Smith said he made. Over and over again, Smith asked Dean, “Is that good police work?”

Over and over again, Dean responded “No,” or that he could have done better.

After he went inside the house and found Jefferson on the floor, Dean did not attempt CPR, body camera footage shows. When Smith questioned him about it, Dean said he did try to perform CPR, but then recanted.

“You heard her last breaths, correct?” Smith said.

“I heard what I now know to be her last breaths,” Dean said.

“Because you didn’t know they were her last breaths then, did you?” Smith said.

“At first I thought it was the dog,” Dean said.

“So she still had a chance in your mind, didn’t she?” Smith said.

“Yes,” Dean said.

Prosecutor Dale Smith, a white man wearing a gray suit, holds up a birds-eye-view photo of Atatiana Jefferson's street in a courtroom. He has a hard frown on his face. Aaron Dean, a white man in a blue suit, sits at the witness stand behind Smith, out of focus.
Amanda McCoy
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Assistant Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney Dale Smith shows the jury evidence while cross examining Aaron Dean on Monday, December 12, 2022, in Fort Worth.

Jefferson lay bleeding out at Dean’s feet for one minute, Smith said. Dean eventually put a blanket over Jefferson’s chest.

There was little chance Jefferson could have survived her wounds, even if she was shot in the middle of an emergency room, according to the deputy medical examiner who performed her autopsy.

Dean’s decisions that night not only killed someone, but could have put him and his partner in serious danger if there had been a burglary in progress, Smith argued. Dean never warned Officer Carol Darch that he saw a gun in Jefferson’s hand, even after firing his shot and going inside to check the house for threats.

"Did you not think to tell her, 'Hey, I saw somebody with a gun?'” Smith asked.

“No,” Dean said.

"Do you not like Officer Darch?” Smith said.

Smith played the body camera footage from the incident, pausing to point out perceived mistakes and violations of police policy. Dean avoided looking at the screen, pinching the bridge of his nose.

Dean and Darch both testified they didn’t announce themselves as police so they wouldn’t alert any potential burglars. But Dean and Darch could have called for backup to secure the front or side door, Smith pointed out. Any burglars could have just run away through those unsecured doors. And besides, Dean turned on his flashlight that night, which could have given away their position anyway.

"Do you still believe you’ve done a B level job so far?” Smith asked.

"I think I did a fine job,” Dean said.

Dean later said he had no choice but to shoot Jefferson during that call.

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Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

Miranda Suarez is KERA’s Tarrant County accountability reporter. Before coming to North Texas, she was the Lee Ester News Fellow at Wisconsin Public Radio, where she covered statewide news from the capital city of Madison. Miranda is originally from Massachusetts and started her public radio career at WBUR in Boston.