A former Texas police officer on trial for murder testified Monday that he made mistakes, but said he had no choice when he fatally shot a Black woman through a rear window of her home in 2019 while staring down the barrel of a handgun she was pointing at him.
Aaron Dean said Atatiana Jefferson had the gun “pointed directly at me” but repeatedly acknowledged his actions were “bad police work” on the fourth day of his trial in the killing of the 28-year-old woman. It was Dean’s first public statement in the more than three years since the white Fort Worth officer shot Jefferson while responding to a call about an open front door.
“I was looking right down the barrel of the gun and when I saw the barrel of that gun pointed at me, I fired a single shot from my duty weapon,” Dean said on the witness stand. Prosecutors contend Dean didn’t see the gun.
On cross examination, Dean, now 38, acknowledged that he didn’t say he was police nor mention the gun before shooting, and also didn’t tell another officer about the weapon before they moved into the house.
Running through events, prosecutors repeatedly asked if his actions were “more bad police work.” Again and again, Dean said “yes.”
The Fort Worth Police Department released body-camera video and arrested Dean on a murder charge within days of the Oct. 12, 2019, shooting. He'd completed the police academy the year before and quit the force without speaking to investigators.
Since then, Dean's case was repeatedly postponed amid lawyerly wrangling, the terminal illness of Dean’s lead attorney and the COVID-19 pandemic. Tarrant County prosecutors rested their case Wednesday after about two and a half days of testimony.
Dean shot Jefferson after a neighbor called a nonemergency police line to report that the front door to Jefferson’s home was open. She had been playing video games that night with her nephew and it emerged at trial that they left the doors open to vent smoke from hamburgers the boy burnt.
Bodycam footage showed that Dean and a second officer who responded to the call didn’t identify themselves as police at the house. Officer Carol Darch testified last week that she and Dean thought the house might have been burglarized and quietly moved into the fenced-off backyard, guns drawn, looking for signs of forced entry.
There, Dean fired a single shot through the window a split-second after shouting at Jefferson, who was inside, to show her hands.
Dean testified Monday that his view of the darkened backyard was clearer than what’s shown in his body-camera footage but said that he could not make out the race or sex of the person in the window. He said he opened fire after seeing a gun “very close” and that he was briefly blinded by his muzzle flash.
“When my vision cleared, then I observed the person that we now know is Miss Jefferson,” he said. “I heard her scream and then saw her fall."
On cross examination, Dean acknowledged entering private property by going into the backyard and that he lingered in front of the “fatal funnel” of the darkened window. He said he saw Jefferson's gun but “never actually saw her hands.”
Dean appeared to cry at various points during his testimony and prosecutors questioned him about why he kept looking at his lawyers. He replied that he was “addressing the room.”
Darch’s back was to the window when Dean shot, but she said he never mentioned seeing a gun before he pulled the trigger and didn’t say anything about the weapon as they rushed in to search the house.
Jefferson’s 8-year-old nephew witnessed his aunt being shot from inside the room. Zion Carr testified that Jefferson took out her gun believing there was an intruder in the backyard, but he offered contradictory accounts of whether she pointed the pistol out the window.
Carr, now 11, testified on the trial’s opening day that Jefferson always had the gun down, but he said in an interview that was recorded soon after the shooting and played in court that she pointed the weapon at the window.
Dean said he never gave Jefferson first aid. He testified that after the shooting he was shocked to find Carr inside, still thinking someone had been stealing things from the house.
“I’m thinking, ’Who brings a kid to a burglary? What is going on?’” he said.
Associated Press journalist Jamie Stengle contributed to this report.