Fort Worth police admit to having more questions than answers on why an officer shot a woman to death inside her own home. Atatiana Jefferson died early Saturday when a Fort Worth police officer fired one shot through a window. The department moved quickly to release body camera footage of the shooting.
The pictures of the gun at the end of the video could be seen as an attempt by Fort Worth police to defend the officer’s decision. However, Lieutenant Brandon O’Neil declined to tell reporters late Sunday afternoon why the gun images were included in the released footage or if the officer was being threatened. He cited an expected news conference by Chief Ed Kraus tomorrow as his reasoning.
One thing O’Neill did say was the officer did not announce his presence at the home which is under investigation. This is quite troubling and the officer will be interviewed by the Major Case Unit tomorrow. Internal Affairs is doing its own probe of the shooting.
O’Neill also noted the man who called the non-emergency number said his neighbor’s door had been open for a period of time and Jefferson’s car was at the home even though he hadn’t seen her.
“I called my police department for a welfare check,” the neighbor James Smith told WFAA hours after the shooting. “No domestic violence, no arguing, nothing that they should have been concerned about as far as them coming with guns drawn to my neighbor’s house.”
Who knows why the door was open. It could be the eight-year-old accidentally forgot to close the door or it failed to latch. We may never know because the only person who might be able to answer is dead. The eight-year-old could but he’s eight and everything should be taken with a grain of salt.
However, this doesn’t answer the question of whether Jefferson was holding the gun when the officer opened fire. It’s unclear from the body camera footage, which appears to be from shoulder camera, whether Jefferson is armed. The gun found inside the home could have been on a table or by the window and the still frames released by police provide very little context. It does appear something is partially covering the grip in the second picture but it’s not known what. There is no information on which picture of the gun was taken first, which is concerning.
The relationship between the Fort Worth Police Department and the general public is already shaken. There have been eight shootings involving officers since June. Five were deadly, including the one from early Saturday. One involved an unarmed suspect but officers claimed he had previously pointed a rifle at them. Another deadly shooting is up for debate because the suspect may have taken his own life a second before police opened fire.
The third shooting involved a fleeing armed suspect who had just pulled a weapon. He died at the hospital but his family thinks it took too long for medical personnel to respond to the scene. Attorney Lee Merritt theorized the gunshot wound to the back was survivable. The fourth was during a hostage situation where lives were more than likely saved because officers acted the way they did.
Jefferson’s death threatens more fractures between police and the community. Most of the anger is within the black community where pastors are wondering why their community calls Fort Worth police for help.
“The Fort Worth police murdered this woman. They murdered this woman in her own house,” Greater Saint Stephen Reverend Michael Bell proclaimed at a Saturday news conference. “And now, African Americans, we have no recourse. If we call the police, they will come and kill us. And we know that.”
Bell’s language is hyperbolic, however, his anger is understandable given the circumstances. This was a woman inside her own home who appeared to have no idea police were outside. O’Neil told reporters officers parked nearby Jefferson’s home but not in front which could have alerted her of their presence. An officer opened fire a second after encountering her through a window without identifying himself. Police are probably lucky Jefferson was the only one killed because O’Neil said Jefferson’s nephew was also in the bedroom at the time of the shooting.
This just looks bad regardless if a crime was committed by the officer. Tarrant County prosecutors will eventually decide if charges are warranted which appears to be the case. More information could eventually come out which shows the officer was justified.
Either way, a transparent investigation is needed to determine why this happened and what changes could be made to make sure this doesn’t happen again.