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Mayor, council member not held in contempt over Aaron Dean trial comments

Arron Dean trial.JPG
Cristian ArguetaSoto
/
Fort Worth Report
Chris Nettles, a Fort Worth City Council member, sits in the audience awaiting the verdict in the murder trial of Aaron Dean.

Mayor Mattie Parker and District 8 council member Chris Nettles were not held in contempt of court, after they apologized behind closed doors to the judge overseeing the Aaron Dean trial.

Parker and Nettles were called in for the hearing after they released statements following the manslaughter conviction of Dean, in violation of the gag order preventing people involved in the case from speaking about it publicly.

Dean is a former Fort Worth police officer who shot and killed 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson through the window of her home on Oct. 12, 2019. He was sentenced to nearly 12 years in prison for the on-duty shooting.

When reporters and community members gathered in the courtroom Jan. 4, Judge George Gallagher announced Parker had a scheduling conflict and had seen him in his chambers Jan. 3 to apologize.

Nettles then apologized to him Wednesday in his chambers as well, Gallagher said. With those apologies in mind, Gallagher told those gathered he would not take any action against the council members.

“It’s time to move on,” he said.

At issue was a gag order that remained in place until the end of sentencing. The order, issued Oct. 25, 2019, by the initial judge overseeing the case, was a holdover from when Parker and Nettles were sworn in as witnesses in a 2021 pre-trial hearing about a venue transfer request. It limited pre-trial comment by attorneys and others connected closely to the case.

Gallagher held both Nettles and Parker to the pre-trial gag order after they released individual statements about the verdict, a move that caught those watching the trial in the courthouse by surprise.

Nettles’ and Parker’s statements differed in tone; while the District 8 council member called the verdict a “slap in the face to the Black communities in Fort Worth,” Parker struck a more conciliatory note and said the verdict “provides a measure of justice.”

After the conclusion of the hearing, Nettles stayed to give a statement, thanking the community members who came to support him and affirming that he’d apologized for his statement.

“I assured (Gallagher) that it was my attempt just to be the voice for our community,” Nettles said. “And that’s all and so it will never happen again.”

Jacqueline Craig was among those who came to support Nettles. Craig, who in September settled a lawsuit against the city for excessive force used during her arrest by a Fort Worth police officer, said Nettles had supported her throughout her case and she wanted to return the favor.

“I appreciate Chris being the man that he is, speaking up for the community, sticking by the community,” she said.

Parker released a written statement after the hearing.

“As mayor, I felt that I had a great responsibility to communicate to the Fort Worth community following a verdict around a tragedy that deeply impacted so many in our city,” she wrote. “I respect Judge Gallagher’s responsibility to ensure a just and fair trial, and I appreciate that we have found resolution on this issue.”

Parker and Nettles were not the only ones admonished during the trial. Lee Merritt, an attorney who represents Atatiana Jefferson’s family in a civil lawsuit against the city, was watching the trial at the courthouse on Dec. 5. Gallagher called him up to the bench and reminded him he was not allowed to watch because he was sworn in as a witness.

Dean’s attorneys have filed an intention to appeal his case in the 2nd Court of Appeals.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at emily.wolf@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.

Emily Wolf is a local government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She grew up in Round Rock, Texas, and graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a degree in investigative journalism. Reach her at emily.wolf@fortworthreport.org for more stories by Emily Wolf click here.
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.