Texas police officer fatally shoots Black woman in her own home 

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A Fort Worth, Texas police officer fatally shot a Black woman in her own home on Saturday. The police were performing a wellness check on the woman, 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson, at the request of a concerned neighbor. 

The neighbor, 62-year-old James Smith, called a non-emergency number around 2am on Saturday after he found out from his niece that Jefferson’s doors to her home were open, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

According to the Star-Telegram’s video interview with Smith, he said that Jefferson leaving her doors open was “unusual” for her.

“I came over to see if there was anything wrong. I noticed that all the lights in the house were on,” he says in the video. “I didn’t see any movement, so instead of going in, I went back home and I called the Fort Worth Police Department to come out and do a welfare check to make sure my neighbor was OK.”

He says, about 15-minutes after his call, “five-to-10” officers surrounded the house, and he heard a loud noise. 

Body-cam footage released by the Fort Worth Police Department shows a white officer noticing Jefferson’s home doors are open. The lights in her home were on. Then the officer, with a flashlight in hand, can be seen walking around the home, opening a gate, and traveling through a darker part of her yard. 

The officer then looks into one of Jefferson’s windows. The officer raises both his gun and flashlight and shouts, “Put your hands up, show me your hands,” then fires a shot through the window within four seconds. The officer never identified himself as an officer.

Jefferson was playing video games with her nephew–she lived with her nephew and aunt–when she looked out the window because she thought there was a prowler lurking around her home, according to the Star-Telegram. That’s when she was shot by the officer. 

The officer who killed Jefferson has not been publicly identified and has reportedly been placed on administrative leave, with an investigation pending. 

“Perceiving a threat, the officer drew his duty weapon and fired one shot striking the person inside the residence,” the department wrote in a press release. “Officers entered the residence locating the individual and a firearm and began providing emergency medical care.”

Once police entered the home, they found a firearm on the property. Texas is an open carry state, and about 35 to 43% of the population are gun owners. It’s unclear where the firearm was at the time of her death.

Civil rights lawyer S. Lee Merritt who is representing her family warned of the possibility of police “villainizing” the victim, according to the Star-Telegram

People are shocked and frustrated, especially since it happened so close in timing to the high-profile Amber Guyger murder trial in which she was sentenced to 10 years–a sentence that has been scrutinized for being too light–for fatally shooting Botham Jean, a Black man, after she entered his apartment unit in Dallas, Texas, (which is also close to Fort Worth).

“This is murder I was hoping the amber guyger case would put the cops on notice. Now we need to demand cops be put on trial for murder but this time the death penalty or life in jail,” Twitter user
@pokobbaby1 wrote.

Others expressed that Guyger’s “light” sentencing and airy treatment during the trial only “emboldened” officers. 

“The killing of #AtatianaJefferson was an execution in her own home. This sick, disgusting killing by North Texas cops must be met with swift exacting justice. No doubt the cops felt emboldened by such a weak sentence for racist and killer cop Amber Guyger. Not to mention hugs,” Twitter user @thepopcornreel wrote.

Many expressed sympathy over the guilt Smith said he felt, even though he did everything by the book. 

“If I had never dialed the police department, she’d still be alive,” Smith told the Star-Telegram. “It makes you not want to call the police department. If you don’t feel safe with the police department, then who do you feel safe with?”

As one Twitter user pointed out, Smith, a Black man, could have put his own life in danger if he checked on Jefferson himself. “The gross thing is that I guarantee he feels way more guilt than her murderer,” Twitter user @rexfoex wrote.

https://twitter.com/tvbingequeen/status/1183409569898340353?s=20

https://twitter.com/tvbingequeen/status/1183409569898340353?s=20

Jefferson was a pre-med graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana and enjoyed spending time with her family. She was having fun with her nephew on Friday night before she was killed, Merritt told the Star-Telegram

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H/T BuzzFeed News

Samira Sadeque

Samira Sadeque

Samira Sadeque is a New York-based journalist reporting on immigration, sexual violence, and mental health, and will sometimes write about memes and dinosaurs too. Her work also appears in Reuters, NPR, and NBC among other publications. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School, and her work has been nominated for SAJA awards. Follow: @Samideque