Amid mourning and outrage from community members, the Fort Worth Police Department released body camera footage on Sunday of a tragic officer-involved shooting in which a white officer shot and killed a black woman in her own home after a reported “non-emergency” call from a neighbor.
At 2:25 a.m. on Saturday, police responded to a call on a non-emergency police number from a concerned neighbor after he noticed that the front door of his neighbor Atatiana Jefferson’s (28) home was left open and the lights were on. The neighbor, James Smith, knew that Jefferson was home with her 8-year-old nephew and found it “unusual” that her front door would be left open and the lights on at such an hour, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports.
The police-released video (below) shows two officers outside Jefferson’s home scanning the perimeter using flashlights, checking a door and windows of the home, when one officer shouts, “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” The officer then fires a single shot through a bedroom window.
The footage ends with two still shots of what the department says is a handgun found in the bedroom in which Jefferson was shot. Whether or not Jefferson was ever holding that gun is unclear.
The video also does not show the officer announcing that he is with the police department, and police have not specified whether he did so. According to Smith, the police parked around the corner; thus, Jefferson may not have been able to see their police vehicle.
Video below (warning: graphic content):
The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office said Jefferson died of the gunshot wound in her bedroom.
“Perceiving a threat, the officer drew his duty weapon and fired one shot striking the person inside the residence,” Fort Worth police said in a statement reported by the Star-Telegram. “Officers entered the residence locating the individual and a firearm and began providing emergency medical care.”
According to attorney S. Lee Merritt, who is representing Jefferson’s relatives, Jefferson was inside the home playing video games with her nephew. Believing that the police were prowlers, she went to the window to try to see who was outside and was shot, Merritt said.
Though the released footage features images of a handgun found in the home, police have not said if she was holding the gun when the officer fired.
Asked by the Star-Telegram if Jefferson was holding the weapon and what exactly the officer perceived as a threat, the department declined to answer, a department spokesman telling the outlet in an email, “Being the preliminary stages of this critical investigation we have provided all the information we have available to release at this time.”
Smith, who stressed that he made the non-emergency call only out of concern for Jefferson’s well-being, expressed regret at his decision to involve authorities. “I’m shaken. I’m mad. I’m upset,” he told reporters. “And I feel it’s partly my fault. If I had never dialed the police department, she’d still be alive.”
In a Facebook post Saturday, Merritt preemptively defended Jefferson against what he described as law enforcement’s “pattern of villainizing” suspects. Jefferson, he noted, was a pre-med graduate of Xavier University who was “very close to her family” and was just trying to have fun playing video games with her nephew.
Several black community leaders and pastors held a meeting on Saturday in which they decried the tragic killing of Jefferson. One of the pastors who attended the event, Greater Saint Stephen’s Rev. Michael Bell, declared the shooting a “murder” and suggested it was racially motivated.
“The Fort Worth police murdered this woman,” Bell said in comments reported by the Star-Telegram. “They murdered this woman in her own house. And now, African Americans, we have no recourse. If we call the police, they will come and kill us. And we know that.”
Police say the officer who fired on Jefferson is on administrative leave pending the investigation.
H/T Taylor Millord