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Atatiana Jefferson’s relatives sue city of Fort Worth, former cop over fatal shooting

Relatives of Atatiana Jefferson are suing the city of Fort Worth and a former police officer over the 28-year-old woman’s fatal shooting by the officer in her home last year.

Atatiana Jefferson
Atatiana Jefferson(File / AP)

The wrongful-death lawsuit was filed in a federal district court last week and seeks unspecified damages. It lists Jefferson’s biological father, Jerome Eschor, her aunt Venitta Body and another relative, Arita Eschor, as plaintiffs.

Jefferson was playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew about 2:30 a.m. Oct. 12, 2019, when she heard noise outside. Police had been sent to the home in the 1200 block of East Allen Avenue, where Jefferson was staying with her convalescent mother, after a neighbor called a non-emergency line to report that the doors were open and the lights were on.

According to the child, Jefferson grabbed a handgun and pointed it toward a window, then was shot.

Footage from then-Officer Aaron Dean’s body camera shows him walking to the back of the house, then turning toward a window, yelling at Jefferson to put her hands up and shooting her through the window in a matter of seconds. According to an arrest-warrant affidavit, Dean and another responding officer had not announced their presence when they arrived at the home.

Dean, now 36, was arrested two days later on a murder charge and quickly posted bond. Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus said Dean resigned before he could be fired.

Aaron Dean
Aaron Dean(Tarrant County Jail)

The lawsuit says Dean “intentionally and with conscious, callous, deliberate and unreasonably indifference” used excessive force in fatally shooting Jefferson.

It also says that Dean had been reprimanded in the past and that the Fort Worth Police Department should have realized that he “exhibited a pattern of escalating encounters with the public.” The lawsuit accuses the department of failing to properly train or supervise its officers and declining to discipline Dean or correct his actions.

The lawsuit does not make clear what “escalating encounters” it is referring to. Dean’s police file shows that during his training in 2018, officers praised his abilities but said that he sometimes exhibited “tunnel vision” and poor communication. While in college, he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor assault charge after a woman accused him of touching her breast in 2004.

A spokeswoman for the city of Fort Worth told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Monday that officials had not yet been served with the lawsuit and could not comment on it.

A Tarrant County grand jury has since indicted Dean on the murder charge. His trial, delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, is tentatively scheduled to begin in August.

Jefferson’s mother, 55-year-old Yolanda Carr, died from congestive heart failure at the East Allen home in January. Marquis Jefferson, 58 — who was not Jefferson’s biological father but whose dispute with the slain woman’s family delayed her funeral — had a heart attack and died less than a month after the shooting.

In June, Jefferson’s relatives launched The Atatiana Project with the goal of helping children work toward careers in science, technology, engineering and math — Jefferson had studied biology and hoped to attend medical school — and to make sure people remember her.

“Atatiana was a beautiful soul,” said Dr. Pamela Grayson, who’s on the project’s advisory board. “We need people to understand who she was, what we lost, what could have been.”

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