FORT WORTH, Texas — The officer who fatally shot Atatiana Jefferson in her home Saturday morning has resigned, Fort Worth interim police chief Ed Kraus said Monday. The officer may face criminal charges, Kraus said.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price said the killing of Jefferson was unjustified.
“I’m so sorry. On behalf of the entire city of Fort Worth, I’m sorry,” Price told reporters Monday. “To Atatiana’s family, it’s unacceptable. There is nothing that can justify what happened on Saturday morning. Nothing.”
Two seconds after he shouted commands outside a house, a Fort Worth police officer opened fire into what looked like a dark room.
Moments later, Atatiana Koquice Jefferson died in the bedroom of her own home with her 8-year-old nephew nearby.
“There was no reason for her to be murdered. None,” said Lee Merritt, an attorney for Jefferson’s family and the family of Botham Jean, an unarmed black man killed at home by a Dallas police officer. “We must have justice.”
Police responded to Jefferson’s house around 2:25 a.m. Saturday after a concerned neighbor noticed her doors were open in the middle of the night.
The neighbor, James Smith, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram he called a non-emergency police number for a safety check. He said he was worried because he knew Jefferson was at home with her nephew.
Officers searched the perimeter of Jefferson’s house and saw “a person standing inside the residence near a window,” Fort Worth police said.
“Perceiving a threat, the officer drew his duty weapon and fired one shot striking the person inside,” police said. Officers then went inside and gave emergency medical care.
Jefferson died at 2:30 a.m. Saturday in the bedroom of her home, the Tarrant County medical examiner said.
The officer didn’t announce ‘Police!’ prior to shooting
Police have released one minute and 17 seconds of the officer’s body camera footage leading up to the shooting.
The video shows the officer approaching an entrance to the home, where the screen door is closed but the solid door behind it is wide open. The room inside is lit.
The officer then walks around the house and approaches a window, shining a flashlight into what appears to be a dark room.
“Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” the officer screams. He does not identify himself as police.
Within two seconds of starting his verbal commands, the officer fires a shot through the window while he’s in the middle of saying “show me” for the second time.
That’s when the edited video footage provided by police stops.
“The Fort Worth Police Department is releasing available body camera footage to provide transparent and relevant information to the public as we are allowed within the confines of the Public Information Act and forthcoming investigation,” police said.
Police have not named the officer, who joined the department in April 2018. He was placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of an investigation, but then resigned.
“The officer did not announce that he was a police officer prior to shooting,” Lt. Brandon O’Neil told reporters Sunday. “What the officer observed, and why he did not announce ‘police,’ will be addressed as the investigation continues.”
O’Neil confirmed that Jefferson’s 8-year-old nephew was inside the room at the time of the shooting.
“The members of the Fort Worth Police Department share your very real and valid concerns, as do the members of this city and people across the country,” O’Neil said.
CNN requested the unedited body camera footage but has not received it.
Critics slam the photo of a gun
Immediately after the edited clip of the bodycam footage, a black screen appears with words “still frame 1 where weapon was located inside bedroom.”
Fort Worth police then show a photo of a room completely blurred out, except for a gun. Police did not say whether Jefferson was holding a gun at the time she was shot.
Critics like Merritt, who is representing Jefferson’s family, said he’s concerned about police “villainizing” Jefferson or “turning her into a suspect, a silhouette, or threat.”
He said an independent law enforcement agency should take over the investigation.
“We don’t think that Fort Worth Police should be investigating it on their own,” Merritt said.
A doting aunt who took care of her ailing mother
Just before she was killed, Jefferson was playing video games with her nephew, Merritt told CNN.
She had moved into her ailing mother’s home earlier this year to take care of her, the attorney said. Jefferson’s mother was in a hospital when her daughter was shot by police.
Merritt said Jefferson graduated from Xavier University in 2014 with a degree in biology and worked in pharmaceutical equipment sales.
“She was very close to her family,” Merritt said on a GoFundMe page benefiting Jefferson’s family. “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 said the funds collected “will go directly to funeral cost and other expenses associated with this tragedy.”
Echoes of Botham Jean
Jefferson’s Fort Worth house is about 30 miles west of the Dallas apartment where Jean was killed last year.
An off-duty Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger, allegedly mistook Jean’s apartment for her own and shot Jean, thinking he was an intruder. Guyger was convicted of murder this month and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Smith, the concerned neighbor who called police to Jefferson’s house, said that he now regrets trying to help.
“I feel guilty because had I not called the Fort Worth Police Department, my neighbor would still be alive today,” he told CNN affiliate KTVT.
Community activist and pastor Michael Bell said it’s a harsh reality that “you don’t know if you will survive a wellness check call.”
“African Americans, we have no recourse … This has to stop,” he said.
“We’re trying to obey the law, raise our families and get our kids into school, and we don’t know if we’re going to survive long enough to do that.”