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Former Fort Worth cop Aaron Dean’s legal troubles far from over after manslaughter conviction

A group of people stands before a forest of microphones at a press conference in front of a blue house.
Cristian ArguetaSoto
/
Fort Worth Report
Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt, center left, speaks at a press conference outside the home where former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean shot and killed Atatiana Jefferson in 2019. Dean was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to more than 11 years in prison.

The family of Atatiana Jefferson will seek further legal action against Aaron Dean, the former Fort Worth police officer convicted of killing Jefferson in her own home.

On Tuesday, a jury sentenced Dean to nearly 12 years in prison for manslaughter. Dean fatally shot Jefferson through her bedroom window while responding to a police call about open doors at her home in 2019.

Dean is white, and Jefferson was Black. Her name joined the long list of Black Americans killed by police in recent years, including George Floyd, Botham Jean and Breonna Taylor.

A few hours after the sentencing Tuesday, Jefferson’s family and supporters gathered for a press conference at the blue house on East Allen Avenue where Jefferson was killed. The street itself bears her name: black street signs read “Atatiana Jefferson Memorial Parkway.”

The family will seek federal civil rights charges against Dean, attorney Lee Merritt said.

"We will send over what's called a one-pager to the White House asking for their intervention, acknowledging that this criminal case is complete,” Merritt said. “And then we expect to see an aggressive federal prosecution."

Former Fort Worth police chief Ed Kraus submitted a case to the FBI to review for possible federal civil rights charges shortly after the shooting.

The family will also continue their lawsuit against Dean and the city, Merritt said. The goal of that suit is to point out problems in police policies and procedures that led Dean to shoot and kill Jefferson in front of her young nephew, Zion Carr.

“He came in using military tactics for a woman and an 8-year-old child," Merritt said.

Jefferson’s family filed the lawsuit last year in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. A judge paused the suit pending end of the criminal trial, court documents show. Now that the criminal trial is over, Merritt plans to ask to reopen the lawsuit first thing next week, he said.

Progress still to be made

The jury had the option to convict Dean of murder, but they chose the lesser charge of manslaughter. That’s a disappointment to many community members and to Ashley Carr, Jefferson’s sister. She wanted a harsher conviction and a harsher sentence, she told reporters Tuesday.

"But is it over? No. Is this fight over? No," she said.

The result of the criminal trial isn’t what she wanted, but it is monumental, Carr said.

“How many of you guys know of any other Black women who have been killed by police to a get a trial and get a conviction?” she said.

Merritt agreed. An officer in Tarrant County has never been convicted for killing someone while on duty, he said.

Police need to treat everyone in Fort Worth the same, regardless of their race or the neighborhood they live in, Carr said. Defense attorneys called East Allen a “rough neighborhood” during the trial, and they said the crime levels in the area might have put Dean on higher alert.

CAS_atatiana_presser-1.jpg
Cristian ArguetaSoto
/
Fort Worth Report
Banners that say "We want Justice #SayHerName Atatiana Jefferson" and "Pull Up for Tay" hang from the porch of a blue house.

"It's all the same. We're all human. We all go to work. We're all trying to just be productive citizens, you know?” she said. “Look at this house and all these houses over here as regular, normal people that just want to live and be protected."

Calling the neighborhood “rough” is just a euphemism for Black, Merritt said, and that gives police officers a pass to enter the neighborhood like a military force.

“We need to stop classifying communities that are predominantly Black as inherently dangerous,” Merritt said.

The memory of Atatiana Jefferson

In court, Jefferson’s siblings described her as hilarious, a shoulder to lean on, and a best friend.

Jefferson wanted to be a doctor. After sentencing, Amber Carr had the chance to address Aaron Dean directly. She told him she had been looking forward to going to her sister’s white coat ceremony, a medical student’s first rite of passage as they begin their training.

Atatiana Jefferson, a Black woman wearing black glasses and a teal shirt, smiles for a photograph with a young boy who makes a silly face. She's sitting in a restaurant and flipping through a menu.
Amanda McCoy
/
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
A photograph of Atatiana Jefferson was submitted as evidence during her sister Ashley Carr’s testimony on Wednesday, December 7, 2022, in Fort Worth.

Carr had three years to prepare what she was going to say to Dean, she told reporters Tuesday. She wrote and rewrote what she planned to say.

“What would Atatiana want to hear?" she asked herself. “That's what I embodied when I wrote that.”

In court, Carr told Dean that she was angry at him first, but now she pities him.

“I pity your ignorance,” she said. “You do not know enough to be ashamed.”

Carr called Dean a stain on the city of Fort Worth.

“I hope you spend the rest of your life reliving this moment,” she said.

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

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Miranda Suarez is KERA’s Fort Worth 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.