A former Texas police officer was sentenced to nearly 12 years in prison Tuesday following his manslaughter conviction for shooting Atatiana Jefferson in her own home in 2019.
Aaron Dean, the 38-year-old White former Fort Worth police officer, had faced up to 20 years in prison for killing Jefferson, a 28-year-old Black woman.
Dean, in a gray suit, stood in court and showed no emotion as the sentence was read. Jefferson’s relative read impact statements after the term of 11 years, 10 months and 12 days in prison was announced.
“My sister did not do anything wrong,” said Ashley Carr, Jefferson’s sister. “She was in her home, which should have been the safest place for her to be and yet turned out to be the most dangerous. She was murdered and, as her big sister, I live every day with the pain that I could not do my job and protect her.”
Carr said she pitied Dean.
“Not because of the punishment you have received for your crime,” she told Dean in court. “You and I both know that is insufficient. I pity your ignorance… You do not know enough to be ashamed. You’re not self aware enough to understand your responsibility for this evil act.”
The jury began deliberating on the award on Monday after convicting Dean last Thursday.
Prosecutors asked jurors to sentence Dean to the maximum 20 years in prison, saying anything less was a “travesty of justice.” Dean’s defense asked for a suspended sentence and community supervision, noting that he was acting in his role as a police officer and was not in need of rehabilitation.
The sentence comes more than three years after the deadly encounter in which Dean and his partner responded to Jefferson’s house around 2:25 am on October 12, 2019. They arrived at her house after a neighbor called a non-emergency police line to report that her doors were open. They did not announce themselves as police at the home, and Dean then fatally shot through a bedroom window at Jefferson, who had been playing video games with her nephew, who was 8.
Dean resigned from the force days afterward and was arrested and charged with murder. He has been out on bond for the last three years.
Trial testimony, which touched on race, police violence, gun rights and body-camera footage, began on December 5.
Dean was charged with murder, but jurors were allowed to convict him on a lesser charge of manslaughter. They had deliberated for more than 13 hours, according to CNN affiliate WFAA, before announcing a guilty verdict Thursday. The manslaughter conviction of a police officer who was on duty is a first in Tarrant County, the station reported.
At trial, defense attorneys said Dean fired in self-defense, and Dean testified that he fired at Jefferson because she pointed a gun at him. He tested that he believed the home was being burglarized because the doors were open and the place appeared ransacked.
“The state cannot prove to you beyond a reasonable doubt that this was not self-defense,” defense attorney Bob Gill said. “It’s tragic, but is not an offense under the state of Texas.”
However, prosecutors argued there was no evidence he saw a gun in the woman’s hand before he fired at her. Further, Jefferson’s 11-year-old nephew, who was with her at the time, tested he did not see her raise a gun to the window. Dean’s police partner, Carol Darch, testified Dean did not mention he had seen a gun in the minutes after the shooting as they ran into the home.
“If you can’t feel safe in your own home, where can you feel safe?” Tarrant County prosecutor Ashlea Deener told jurors in closing arguments. “When you think about your house, you think about safety. It’s where you go to retreat, to get away from the world.”
Jefferson graduated from Xavier University of Louisiana in 2014 with a degree in biology and worked in pharmaceutical equipment sales, according to her family’s attorney.
She had moved to Fort Worth a few months earlier to take care of her ailing mother and her nephews, family attorney S. Lee Merritt said at the time.
The prosecution’s first witness was Zion Carr, who was 8 years old and in the bedroom with his “Aunt Tay” when she was shot.
Now 11, the boy tested they had accidentally burned hamburgers earlier in the night, so they opened the doors to air the smoke out of the house.
He and his aunt were up late playing video games when Jefferson heard a noise outside, and she then went to her purse to get her gun, he tested. He did not see her raise her firearm toward the window, he tested.
Zion said he did not hear or see anything outside the window, but he saw his aunt fall to the ground and start crying.
“I was thinking, ‘Is it a dream?’” he tested. “She was crying and just shaking.”
Prosecutors also called to the stand Dean’s police partner, Darch, who tested she was with Dean when they went to investigate the home.
She said she believed the home was being burglarized because two doors were open, lights were on inside, cabinets were wide open and things were strewn about the living room and kitchen area.
She had her back to the window when Dean began to yell out commands for Jefferson to put her hands up, she tested. Darch said she started to turn around, heard a gunshot, then looked over Dean’s shoulder and could see a face in the window with eyes “as big as saucers.”
She tested she did not see Jefferson holding a gun and didn’t recall Dean ever saying that Jefferson had a gun.
Dean testified last Monday that he fired at Jefferson because she pointed a gun at him.
“As I started to get that second phrase out, ‘Show me your hands,’ I saw a silhouette,” the former officer said. “I was looking right down the barrel of a gun, and when I saw the barrel of that gun pointed at me, I fired a single shot from my duty weapon.”
In cross-examination, however, Dean admitted many of his actions that night were “bad police work,” including firing without seeing her hands or what was behind her, failing to tell his partner he saw a gun and rushing into the home without fully ensuring it was safe.
“You’ve got another fellow officer from the Fort Worth Police Department entering a home which you have determined to be a burglary in progress with a possible armed assailant, and you didn’t think to tell your partner, ‘Hey there’s a gun inside ?’” prosecutor R. Dale Smith asked.
“No,” Dean said.
“You didn’t think to tell her, ‘Hey I saw somebody with a gun?’” Smith asked.
“No,” he said.