A white Fort Worth officer fatally shot a black woman inside her home early Saturday after police were called to the house to do a welfare check, according to police and the neighbor who called them.
Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was killed in a bedroom, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office.
Police released a statement Saturday afternoon saying officers responded at 2:25 a.m. to a report the front door of a home was open in the 1200 block of East Allen Avenue. James Smith, who called a non-emergency police number, said he saw the doors were open and the lights were on, which struck him as unusual. He knew Jefferson, his neighbor, was home with her 8-year-old nephew.
Police parked around the corner, so the woman could not see them, according to Smith, 62. About 15 minutes later, he said, he heard a loud bang and saw several more officers rush inside.
Body camera video released by police on Saturday shows two police officers using flashlights to check the perimeter of the home, inspecting multiple doors that are open with a screen door closed. In the back of home, one officer appears to see a figure through a dark window, and he quickly twists his body to the left.
“Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” he shouts through the window, his gun drawn. He then fires a single shot through the window.
He does not identify himself as a police officer in the video.
Police said that the officer, who joined the department in April 2018, saw a person standing inside the home near a window.
“Perceiving a threat, the officer drew his duty weapon and fired one shot striking the person inside the residence,” the statement said. “Officers entered the residence locating the individual and a firearm and began providing emergency medical care.”
Police released photos of a gun they said that they found in a bedroom at the house. Police did not say whether Jefferson was holding the weapon when the officer shot her.
Jefferson was pronounced dead at the scene. The officer, whose name was not released, has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation, police said.
Smith, who has lived on the street for 50 years, said he had been trying to be a good neighbor, calling police on a non-emergency number so they could check on the woman. But he was wrestling with his emotions after a sleepless night.
“I’m shaken. I’m mad. I’m upset. And I feel it’s partly my fault,” he said. “If I had never dialed the police department, she’d still be alive.”
The south Fort Worth community was jolted by news that felt like a familiar story, and later in the day more than 10 black community leaders and pastors held a press conference to call on city leadership to act quickly and hold the officer in question accountable.
Pastor Michael Bell, speaking inside his own Greater Saint Stephen Baptist Church, read the police statement after it was released about noon and offered an immediate response. He wondered, visibly emotional and upset, how a person could be a “perceived threat” inside of her own home.
“Ain’t no ‘perceived threat’ — unless it’s black folk,” he said. “Just our presence — we’re the threat.”
Police said they wanted to be transparent with a quick response in releasing a portion of body camera video. But they said they were unable to release video from inside the house, citing state law.
Police did not offer answers to a list of questions sent by the Star-Telegram, including if Jefferson had been holding a weapon, what the officer perceived as a threat and if officers knocked on the front door or identified themselves as police officers.
“Being the preliminary stages of this critical investigation we have provided all the information we have available to release at this time,” Lt. Brandon O’Neil, a police spokesman, wrote in an email.
‘IT MAKES YOU NOT WANT TO CALL THE POLICE DEPARTMENT’
Smith said his neighbors look after each other. When he called the non-emergency number early Saturday, he said he told police he was simply worried about the welfare of his neighbor and her nephew, he said.
They typically live with older woman who has been in the hospital, he said. His grandchildren, nieces and nephews play with the 8-year-old who was inside the house, and he often worries about the boy crossing the street.
His niece, who also lives on East Allen Avenue, had initially told him about the open doors and the lights, and when he saw it himself, he thought it was concerning.
“When I saw the doors open, I thought about [the child,] I thought about his grandma, I thought about his aunt,” he said. “And I wanted to make sure they were safe. That’s all I wanted to do.”
But around 9 a.m. on Saturday, as he stood outside the woman’s home, he wondered if he had done the right thing. Pastor Kyev Tatum, a community activist, was with him, comforting him.
He knows his street has a bad reputation, Smith said. Maybe, he wondered, police “thought they were coming to something they weren’t.”
The shooting has left him feeling angry and upset, he said, but also saddened.
“It makes you not want to call the police department,” he said. “If you don’t feel safe with the police department, then who do you feel safe with? 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 it costs somebody to lose their life, it makes you not want to do that. And that’s sad.”
PREVIOUS POLICE SHOOTINGS
The East Allen Avenue shooting was the seventh time since June 1 that a Fort Worth police officer has shot a civilian. Six of those people died. The determination of police Internal Affairs Unit reviews of those cases or whether grand juries have considered them was not clear.
The police major case unit, internal affairs unit and the Tarrant County District Attorney’s Office were at the East Allen Avenue scene Saturday.
Three of the recent shootings occurred in June.
▪ A man who was killed by a Fort Worth SWAT officer as he pointed a flashlight at police that an officer believed was a rifle. Police responded to a domestic disturbance call at a residence in the 5700 block of 6th Avenue. The suspect chambered a round and pointed a long rifle at officers. He then barricaded himself inside the house. While officers were trying to speak with the man, he left the front door with both arms out in front of him while holding an object that looked like a weapon-mounted lighting system, police have said. He “turned toward an officer, still locked out in a shooting stance, pointing the object at an officer,” police have said.
▪ An officer shot a burglary suspect who he had been trying to handcuff when the man charged at the officer in the front yard of a house near Rickee Drive and Fair Park Boulevard, police said. The man survived.
▪ A man suffered seven gunshot wounds, six of which of were fired by three officers, and another that the man fired himself, the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office has said. The man, who police had intended to arrest because an assault warrant had been filed against him, ran with his cousin from a car after a traffic stop. He died in the cab of a parked pick-up truck in a yard on East Berry Street.
▪ In July, an officer shot a man who fired at officers as he held three people hostage in an apartment in the 2900 block of Broadmoor Drive. Officers had been in a standoff with the man, who had gone to the apartment to see his ex-girlfriend and infant child.
Two of the shootings occurred in August.
▪ A former Tarrant County law enforcement officer was shot and killed when he displayed a handgun and failed to obey an officer’s commands during a domestic disturbance call in the 5800 block of Blue Ridge Drive, police said.
▪ A man who was was a person of interest in a homicide pointed a handgun toward officers on Boca Raton Boulevard near Oakland Hills Drive. As officers approached the man, intending to question him about the homicide, he pulled a handgun and ran. Officers gave chase, and the man pointed the gun toward them, police said.