Atatiana Jefferson was playing video games in her bedroom with her 8-year-old nephew when a white Fort Worth police officer shot and killed her from outside her window in the early hours of October 12 in Fort Worth, Texas.
The officer was responding to a call reporting that the front door of Jefferson’s house was open. The responding officers surveyed the area, opened the backyard gate, and noticed that someone was standing inside the house near a window, according to the Fort Worth Police Department. As body camera footage showed, one officer yelled, “Put your hands up, show me your hands;” he then shot through the window and killed the 28-year-old before he finished asking to see her hands. He did not tell the woman, who turned out to be Jefferson, that he was law enforcement before giving her orders or shooting her.
The officer, whose identity has not yet been released, had been with the department for a year and a half at the time of the killing. He was placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of a police investigation, according to the police department. The Fort Worth Police major case unit, the internal affairs unit, and the Tarrant County criminal district attorney’s law enforcement incident team are all involved in the investigation. Police overturned body camera footage and other evidence from the scene to the Tarrant County district attorney’s office, which will decide whether or not to prosecute the officer who shot Jefferson.
Lee Merritt, a prominent civil rights attorney in the Dallas area who told the Washington Post that he is representing Jefferson’s family, said in a Facebook post that Jefferson was a pre-med graduate of Xavier University. “She was the auntie that stayed up on Friday night playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew,” Merritt wrote. “She worked in pharmaceutical equipment sales. Her mom had recently gotten very sick, so she was home taking care of the house and loving her life. There was no reason for her to be murdered.”
Merritt also established a GoFundMe to support Jefferson’s family; over 5,000 people have donated to the fund in her memory.
In the body camera video released by Fort Worth police, the department zoomed in on a frame of video and claimed there was a weapon laying in the bedroom. During a press conference the day after the shooting, police declined to say what kind of threat the office perceived before shooting and killing Jefferson, the Texas Tribune reported. A police press report also noted that a firearm was found in the home, but police declined to say why they released information about the gun if they weren’t going to explain its relevance or answer any questions on the topic. After all, Texas is a “shall issue” state, as well as a generally open-carry state, and nearly 36 percent of people in Texas own a gun, according to CBS News. Gun safety laws in the state are so weak that it received an “F” from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
James Smith, Jefferson’s 62-year-old neighbor who called the police for a wellness check when he saw Jefferson’s open door, told the Washington Post that he wished he never made the call.
“It makes you not want to call the police department. Because not just Dallas or other incidents, if you don’t feel safe with the police department, then who do you feel safe with?” Smith said. “Do you just ignore crime or ignore something that’s not right? They tell you if you see something, say something. Well if you do that and you cause somebody to lose their life it makes you not want to do that and that’s sad.”
As of publish time, 689 people have been shot and killed by police in the U.S. this year so far. 144, or 21 percent, of those victims were Black.
Jefferson’s death comes just weeks after Amber Guyger, a white former Dallas police officer, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the murder of Botham Jean, a Black man who worked as an accountant and served as a church choir director. Throughout the trial, Guyger claimed she mistook Jean’s apartment for her own, entered it, and shot and killed him as he sat on his own couch eating ice cream.