Thankfully, we live in a country where the rule of law dictates that every accused person deserves a day in court and a genuine defense against accusations. It also demands that every victim of a crime can see the alleged perpetrator tried in a fair and honest process. The goal of our society’s legal system is the deliverance of truth and justice, not vengeance or retribution.
In that light, we were glad to see a Tarrant County grand jury return an indictment against former Fort Worth police Officer Aaron Dean on a murder charge in the shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson. Dean, 35, fatally shot Jefferson through a window while she was in her mother’s Fort Worth home Oct. 12.
Perhaps the trial will help us understand how another innocent person in our community could be shot and killed by a police officer in her own home. One moment she was playing video games in a well-lit house with her nephew; the next she was dead.
That Jefferson, 28, was a black woman killed by Dean, a white officer, conjures the same frustrations for an area still reeling from the emotional murder conviction and sentencing of a former Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger. As with Guyger’s victim, Botham Jean, Jefferson has become a symbol of terrible injustice that has happened to African Americans at the hands of police.
It’s the reason it is imperative that Dean is given a fair and transparent trial so that all the facts can be known. He deserves a right to defend himself. And Jefferson’s family and this community need to trust that Dean will be held accountable for his actions.
These fatal shootings led us to join Botham Jean’s family in urging police departments everywhere to review their training and operating policies. A federal judge recently ruled that the Dallas Police Department is not liable in Jean’s death. But that should not stop Dallas Police Chief U. Renee Hall from completing her investigation into her officers’ questionable actions that were revealed in that trial, including the outstanding question of whether Guyger was treated with more deference than a non-officer would have been.
What we know already in Jefferson’s shooting is that Dean was one of two officers called to the house on a welfare check. A neighbor called a non-emergency line to report an open door and the lights on. The officers didn’t announce their presence.
Jefferson’s nephew told police his aunt heard a noise outside and grabbed her gun. Dean’s body camera video shows him turning toward a window, yelling at Jefferson to put up her hands and then shooting in just a matter of seconds. Dean resigned two days later.
We grieve with Jefferson’s family; nothing will bring her back. And we’ve got a long way to go in this tragic case. But we’re encouraged that so far, the right things have happened and the system seems to be working the way it’s supposed to work.
The divisive wounds in our community cut deep. Rebuilding trust that justice will be served is the only course that will start to heal them.