A Texas police officer fatally shot a black woman in her own home early Saturday while responding to a neighbour’s request for a welfare check on the residence, authorities said.
Police identified the officer responsible for killing Atatiana Jefferson, 28, as a “white male who has been with the department since April of 2018.” His name has not yet been released. He has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation, and is scheduled to be interviewed Monday by the Major Case Unit, police said.
Jefferson was shot through a window around 2:30 am as officers responded to a non-emergency call from neighbour James Smith who said the front door of the home was open with the lights on, the Fort Worth Police Department said in a statement and press conference on Sunday evening.
“The officer observed a person through a rear window in the house and fired a shot at that person,” Police Chief Edwin Kraus told reporters. “The officer did not announce that he was a police officer prior to shooting. What the officer observed and why he did not announce ‘police’ will be addressed as the investigation continues.”
Officers then went inside and provided emergency medical care to Jefferson, but she was pronounced dead at the scene, police said. The statement said Jefferson’s 8-year-old nephew was inside the room at the time of the shooting.
Police released video from a body camera worn by the officer who fired the shot, which shows him approaching the front of the house and peering inside. The footage shows storm doors were closed, but two main doors behind them were open. Lights inside the house were on, and at least one car was parked in the driveway.
The officer can be seen entering the backyard, turning to the left and shining a flashlight through a window. He suddenly grabs for his gun, points it at the window and shouts, “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” before immediately opening fire.
Police did not release any additional body camera footage, save for two still frames appearing to show a firearm the officers found inside the home. It’s unclear whether Jefferson had been holding the gun at the time she was shot.
Earlier Sunday, the police department sent HuffPost a statement and a roughly minute-long body camera video but did not respond to questions about whether officers ever knocked on Jefferson’s door.
Jefferson was living in the house to help take care of her mother, who has a medical condition, according to Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney representing the victim’s family.
She was playing video games with her nephew early Saturday when they heard a noise in the backyard, Merritt said. When Jefferson went to the window to investigate, she was shot, he said.
“The hardest part about it is I spoke with an 8-year-old who explained what it was like inside of the house,” Merritt told reporters Saturday.
Minutes before police showed up to Jefferson’s home, Smith said he called the department’s non-emergency phone number to report that the doors to the house were ajar and the lights were on. He said he was concerned about Jefferson’s mother, knowing she has health issues.
“I’m shaken. I’m mad. I’m upset. And I feel it’s partly my fault,” Smith told The Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “If I had never dialed the police department, she’d still be alive.”
Kraus said Sunday that Jefferson’s death has “major ramifications for all involved, especially” Jefferson’s family.
“We have communicated with the family and shared our serious and heartfelt concern for this unspeakable loss,” the police chief said.
Community members are calling for a third-party investigation into the shooting and an indictment of the officer.
In a Facebook post Saturday, Merritt said Jefferson was a pre-med graduate of Xavier University of Louisiana and worked in pharmaceutical equipment sales.
“She was very close to her family,” Merritt wrote. “She was the auntie that stayed up on Friday night playing video games with her 8-year old-nephew.”
“Her mom had recently gotten very sick, so she was home taking care of the house and loving her life,” he added. “There was no reason for her to be murdered. None. We must have justice.”
The shooting occurred less than two weeks after former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who is white, was convicted of murdering her unarmed neighbor in his own apartment. Botham Jean, who is black, had been watching TV when Guyger stormed in, saying she believed an intruder was in her own apartment, which was a floor below. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Sanjana Karanth contributed to this report.