Ex-Texas Police Officer Convicted of Manslaughter for Atatiana Jefferson's Death

Aaron Dean fatally shot Atatiana Jefferson in her home as officers responded to an "open structure call" in October 2019

Ex-Texas Police Officer Convicted of Manslaughter for Atatiana Jefferson's Death
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The former Texas policeman who fatally shot Atatiana Jefferson in her home has been convicted of manslaughter.

Aaron Dean, a White police officer, fatally shot Jefferson, a Black woman, while police were responding to an "open structure call" in October 2019 as her home's door was open.

After deliberating for more than 13 hours, a jury in Tarrant County, Texas, found Dean guilty of manslaughter, according to Dallas ABC affiliate WFAA. He could get up to 20 years in prison once sentenced.

"If you can't feel safe in your own home, where can you feel safe?" prosecutors said during closing arguments, per the news station.

"The power you have today is to hold him responsible, it's to tell them [Atatiana's family] that it all wasn't in vain, it's to say that she [Atatiana] matters," prosecutors told the jury, WFAA reported. "They matter, eastside matters. To say that we protect everyone."

aaron dean
Fort Worth Police.

Dean's lawyer, Bob Gill, stated during his closing arguments, per WFAA, "A tragedy doesn't always equal a crime; it doesn't always equal a law violation."

He claimed Dean was acting in self-defense, and Jefferson forfeited her rights when she aimed a handgun at the former officer.

"She [Atatiana] pointed a firearm at a Fort Worth police officer... the rights stop there," Gill said, per WFAA. "It's a crime and it's an unlawful act."

Dean's sentencing proceedings will begin at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, Dallas Fort-Worth's NBC affiliate reported.

Gill did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

During the trial, Jefferson's now 11-year-old nephew Zion took the stand. He was with Jefferson when she was fatally shot, according to ABC News. He was 8 at the time of the shooting.

He told the jury that he and his aunt were playing video games and heard a noise. He said her front door was open because they had burned hamburgers and they wanted to air out the home. When they heard the sound, Jefferson took her gun and went toward the window, said Zion, according to ABC News. In body cam footage, Dean is heard telling Jefferson, "Put your hands up, show me your hands," before he shoots into the window, a fatal bullet hitting Jefferson.

Jefferson was killed on Oct. 12, 2019, when Fort Worth, Texas, police responded to an "open structure call" in the 1200 block of E. Allen Avenue at around 2:30 a.m. A neighbor called authorities to report that Jefferson's front door was open.

Jefferson, 28, had been playing video games with Zion when the call was made, but the neighbor had simply asked for cops to check on the Texas woman out of concern for her safety, after noticing that her front door was open.

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An "open structure" or "open door call" is much different than a wellness check, Michael "Britt" London, president of the Phoenix Law Enforcement Association, told the outlet.

With an "open structure" call, officers are typically on higher alert, as reports could vary from a door accidentally being left unlocked to something more serious like a burglary.

Body-camera footage, released by the police and shared by multiple media outlets, showed two officers walking around the side of the house as one officer approached a closed first-floor window with a flashlight. After raising his gun, the officer screamed, "Put your hands up! Show me your hands!"

The officer, later identified as Dean, never identified himself as a police officer before firing.

Dean, who had been with Fort Worth Police Department since April 2018, was originally placed on administrative leave before his resignation.

In a GoFundMe page created by Merritt, Jefferson was described as a "beautiful" and "peaceful" woman who "was very close to her family."

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