Officer Who Shot Atatiana Jefferson Wasn't Asked to Do Wellness Check Despite Neighbor's Request
Fort Worth Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus told reporters on Tuesday that former officer Aaron Dean was responding to an "open structure call"
Fort Worth Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus told reporters on Tuesday that Dean was responding to an “open structure call” when he opened fire on Atatiana Jefferson and killed her.
Jefferson, 28, had been playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew 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.
“The information came from the neighbor to the call-takers and while it was relayed to the dispatch, it was determined to be an open structure call,” he said, according to CNN.
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.
In the case of a burglary, officers are trained to look for signs that indicate someone has broken into the home, such as a smashed window or broken-down door.
“You are at a higher sensitivity to what is going on with that house,” London told CNN. “You have to be ready for anything. You are taking more of your environment in consideration to be ready for a surprise if there’s one.”
The responding officers did examine the Fort Worth property, with body-camera footage released by the police and shared by multiple outlets showing them walking around the side of the house.
As one officer approached a closed first-floor window with a flashlight, he raised his gun and screamed, “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” The officer, later identified as Dean, apparently never identified himself as police before firing.
However, that response raised questions by many officials, including Jeff Halstead, a retired Fort Worth chief of police and police consultant.
“They were standing literally at the front door, they could see whether the door was kicked on or not. The lights were on, there was evidence that people were living there, there were toys,” Halstead told CNN. “Why they advanced to an extremely dark backyard area without at least ringing the doorbell or checking the entrance? That’s extremely concerning.”
Audio of the non-emergency police line call released by authorities and obtained by the outlet, also confirms that the neighbor never mentioned a burglary, but rather seemed concerned that the front door had been uncharacteristically open for a while.
“Well, the front doors have been open since 10 o’clock. I haven’t seen anybody moving around. It’s not normal for them to have both of the doors open this time of night,” the neighbor said, later adding that he wasn’t sure if anyone was home but noted that both cars were there.
“Are they usually home at this time?” the dispatcher asked the neighbor.
“They’re usually home but they never have both doors open,” the neighbor responded. “The lights are on, I can see through the house. My sister woke me up, she lives across the street from them. I live on the opposite side of my sister.”
Halstead said he believes Dean’s inexperience may have led him to improperly handle the situation.
“Some officers, younger officers, think every call is an extreme risk or high profile call,” he told CNN. “With seniority, maturity, experience, you can customize your mindset in approaching a lot of different calls.”
On Monday afternoon, Dean resigned hours before being fired, NBC News reports. He was originally placed on administrative leave and had been with FWPD since April 2018.
Dean was later taken into custody by his former department and charged with the murder of Jefferson, according to a statement from the Fort Worth Police Department.
Following the news, S. Lee Merritt, the Jefferson Family’s attorney, issued a statement on behalf of his clients and said that while they were “relieved” with the arrest and charges, there was still work to be done in their community.
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“The family of Atatiana Jefferson is relieved that Aaron Dean has been arrested & charged with murder,” Merritt wrote on Twitter. “We need to see this through to a vigorous prosecution & appropriate sentencing. The City of Fort Worth has much work to do to reform a brutal culture of policing.”
In a statement on Facebook, Merritt added, “Aaron Dean has been arrested. It’s a good start. He’s a bad apple. But don’t forget the bunch … it’s bad too (7 fatal police shootings in under 6 months) And who are picking these apples. There’s blood on their hands too. Accountability in Fort Worth is the long game.”
When contacted by PEOPLE, a spokesperson for the Fort Worth Police Department had no comment in regard to Merritt’s claims.