(FORT WORTH, Texas) — A white police officer responding to a call early Saturday for a welfare check at a home in Fort Worth, Texas, fired a shot into a bedroom window, striking and killing a 28-year-old black woman who a neighbor said was not a threat.
Relatives of the woman who was fatally shot identified her as Atatiana Jefferson, and said she worked as a human resources officer for a Fort Worth company and that she lived in the home with an 8-year-old nephew, Dallas ABC affiliate WFAA reported.
During a news conference on Sunday afternoon, Fort Worth Police Lt. Brandon O’Neil said the officer who opened fire on Jefferson never identified himself as a police officer.
“What the officer observed and why he did not announce ‘police’ will be addressed as the investigation continues,” O’Neil said.
The NAACP released a statement on Twitter calling the fatal shooting of Jefferson “UNACCEPTABLE!”
“The acts of yet another ‘trained’ police officer have resulted in the death of #AtatianaJefferson Gun downed in her own home,” the NAACP wrote. “If we are not safe to call the police, if we are not safe in our homes, where can we find peace? We demand answers. We demand justice.”
UNACCEPTABLE! The acts of yet another “trained” police officer have resulted in the death of #AtatianaJefferson. Gun downed in her own home. If we are not safe to call the police, if we are not safe in our homes, where can we find peace? We demand answers. We demand justice. pic.twitter.com/UZqHQzPyaW
— NAACP (@NAACP) October 13, 2019
James Smith, a neighbor, said the shooting unfolded after he called the non-emergency police number to report seeing the lights on and the front door open at Jefferson’s home. He said police arrived at the home around 2:30 a.m. without activating their lights and sirens.
“I called my police department for a welfare check,” Smith told WFAA. “No domestic violence, no arguing, nothing that they should have been concerned about as far as them coming with guns drawn to my neighbor’s house.”
Hearing the gunshot shocked him, he said.
“I don’t know what went on in that house, but I know she wasn’t a threat,” Smith said. “I’m still kind of broken and shocked. They tell me I shouldn’t feel bad. But I feel bad cause had I not called the police department, she would probably still be alive today.”
Civil rights attorney Lee Merritt said Jefferson’s “understandably heartbroken” relatives told him that Jefferson and her nephew were playing video games when they heard noises outside.
“She went to investigate at the window. An officer was on the other side who shouted commands and before she had a moment to respond, he shot her to death,” said Merritt, who also represents the family of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old black man shot to death in September 2018 by white former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who mistook Jean’s apartment for her own and wrongly suspected he was an intruder.
The Fort Worth Police Department did not release the name of the officer.
O’Neil said police received a call at 2:25 a.m. to respond to the home on East Allen Avenue. He said two officers arrived at the house at 2:29 am. and parked near Jefferson’s home, but not in front of the residence. He said the officers walked around the back of the house, and that one of the officers observed a person through the rear window of the home and opened fire.
Body-camera footage released by the department shows the officer approaching a rear window of the home with his gun drawn. The officer sees the woman through the window, shouts, “Put your hands up, show me your hands,” and fires one shot.
The video seems to confirm the officer never identified himself as police before he opened fire.
The front door appears open in the body-camera footage, but a screen door looks to be closed in front of it. The officer doesn’t appear to knock.
“Perceiving a threat, the officer drew his duty weapon and fired one shot striking the person inside the residence,” a statement from the police department reads.
Responding officers entered the home, located the shooting victim and began providing emergency care.
Jefferson died at the scene.
“An 8-year-old male, Ms. Jefferson’s nephew, was inside the room during this time,” O’Neil said.
O’Neil declined to answer questions from reporters, saying Police Chief Ed Kraus is scheduled to hold a news conference about the shooting on Monday.
He said the officer who shot Jefferson is scheduled to be interviewed on Monday by the department’s Major Case Unit investigators.
A firearm was recovered from the woman’s home, but police did not say where the gun was found in the house. The investigation is ongoing.
The officer, who’s been with the department since April 2018, has been placed on administrative leave.
Merritt set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for Jefferson’s funeral. As of Sunday afternoon, more than $81,000 had been raised.
Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price released a statement saying the Police Chief Ed Kraus and his command staff “are acting with immediacy and transparency to conduct a complete and thorough investigation.”
She said the case will be turned over to the Tarrant County District Attorney Law Enforcement Incident Team to investigate the incident further.
“Writing a statement like this is tragic and something that should never be necessary,” Price said in her statement. “A young woman has lost her life, leaving her family in unbelievable grief. All of Fort Worth must surround Atatiana Jefferson’s family with prayers, love and support.”
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