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Fort Worth Officer Kills Woman In Her Bedroom In Response To 'Open Structure Call'

An officer responding to a welfare call early Saturday morning in Fort Worth, Texas, fired once into Atatiana Jefferson's bedroom window and killed her. Police say a weapon was recovered from the room in which she was pronounced dead.
Fort Worth Police Department
An officer responding to a welfare call early Saturday morning in Fort Worth, Texas, fired once into Atatiana Jefferson's bedroom window and killed her. Police say a weapon was recovered from the room in which she was pronounced dead.

A white police officer fired through the window of a black woman's home early Saturday and killed her after responding to a call that a neighbor placed about an open front door, authorities in Fort Worth, Texas, say.

Around 2:25 a.m., officers responded to an "open structure call" made by a neighbor to the police department's nonemergency number. Inside the home, Atatiana Jefferson, 28, and her 8-year-old nephew were playing video games.

Body camera footage released by the police shows the officer outside the home, looking into Jefferson's bedroom window and shouting, "Put your hands up! Show me your hands!" before firing a single bullet that killed Jefferson.

Kyev Tatum, a pastor and community activist who was on the scene shortly after the shooting, told NPR that the neighbor who called the police was worried about the welfare of Jefferson. He said Jefferson may have had her front door open for a reason.

"This was probably one of the first days that we had cool weather in Fort Worth. This was a cool evening. I'm sure she allowed the door to be open to air out the house, to get some fresh air in the house," Tatum said.

The concerned neighbor, James Smith, told local television station WFAA that he never intended for an aggressive law enforcement response.

"No domestic violence, no arguing," he said. "Nothing that they should have been concerned with, as far as them coming with guns drawn to my neighbor's house," Smith said. "There wasn't any reason for a gunshot that I know of," he said. "She wasn't a threat."

Civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt said Jefferson was a pre-medicine graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana and was working at the time in pharmaceutical equipment sales.

"Her mom had recently gotten very sick, so she was home taking care of the house and loving her life," Merritt said.

According to a police news release, when the officer was searching the perimeter of Jefferson's house, the officer noticed a person inside and standing near the window, which police say was perceived as a threat. That is when the officer drew his weapon, ordered Jefferson's hands up and shot.

Authorities say that when they entered Jefferson's home, a gun was recovered from the bedroom — the area where police shot and where Jefferson was pronounced dead. Officials did not say whether Jefferson was holding a weapon at the time the officer fired at her.

Tatum said Jefferson's having a weapon should not have justified the use of deadly force.

"If you hear some noise in your backyard early in the morning when you're with your 8-year-old nephew, well of course anyone in their right mind is going to try to protect themselves and others, especially a child," Tatum said. "But the officer reacted so quickly and never identified himself as a police officer."

The Fort Worth Police Department said the officer who shot Jefferson, who has not been identified, has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the department's investigation into the incident.

In a statement, the department said it is "committed to completing an extremely thorough investigation of this critical police incident to its resolution."

After Tatum arrived on the scene Saturday morning, he was consoling Smith. Tatum said the neighbor is emotionally torn up for doing what he thought was the right thing.

"He said, 'I feel guilty, because if I had not called the police to do a welfare check, my neighbor would still be alive,' " Tatum said. "So he's feeling guilty for the actions of the police department."

The fatal shooting comes during a tense time for police-community relations in the Dallas and Fort Worth area.

This month, former police officer Amber Guyger was sentenced by a jury to 10 years in state prison for shooting to death a neighbor, Botham Jean, in his own apartment.

Guyger, who is white, claimed she thought she was entering her own apartment in the same building and mistook Jean, who is black, as an intruder in her home.

"How are these officers killing people in their own homes, minding their own business?" Tatum said to NPR. "We have absolutely no faith in our police department."

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.
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