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NEW YORK – With jury deliberations underway in the trial of a former Texas police officer charged with fatally shooting a Black woman in 2019, the bishop of the Diocese of Fort Worth is urging people to remain peaceful and work together to address “pressing social and moral issues.”
Aaron Dean is charged with murder for shooting and killing 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson while responding to a call about an open front door at her house. The jury took up the case on Dec. 14 after six days of testimony and argument in the trial, which has been delayed numerous times.
“The current trial of Aaron Dean for the murder of Atatiana Jefferson, whatever verdict it delivers, should prompt our community not to be indifferent to Atatiana’s death but to face our fears and to resolve to work together on addressing such pressing social and moral issues as race, gun violence, police security, and the rule of law for the common good and protection of the vulnerable of our community,” Bishop Michael Olson said in a Dec. 13 statement.
Dean and his partner went to Jefferson’s home around 2:25 a.m. on Oct. 12, 2019, after a neighbor called a non-emergency police line to report that the front door of Jefferson’s home was open. Body-cam footage shows Dean looking into the front door of the home, eventually moving to and entering the fenced backyard through a gate. Once in the backyard, Dean fired his weapon a split second after shouting at Jefferson to show her hands.
Key to the trial is whether or not Dean knew Jefferson was armed when he shot her. Prosecutors argue that Dean never saw the gun. The former officer testified earlier this week that Jefferson had a weapon “pointed directly” at him, which led him to fire a single shot into the bedroom from his duty weapon.
Both Dean and his partner, Officer Carol Darch, testified that they thought the home was being burglarized based on what they saw through the front door, which led them to further investigate the property.
At the time, Jefferson was inside the bedroom with her then eight-year-old nephew, Zion Carr. Carr, now 11, testified that he and his aunt were up late playing video games and that the front door was open to air smoke out of the house because they had accidentally burned hamburgers earlier in the night.
In his statement, Olson said that the death of Jefferson in the presence of Carr “naturally evokes emotions of grief, fear, and anger within each of us as fellow human beings.”
“These emotions should not prompt anyone to turn to violence, intimidation, or lawlessness as tactics to protest injustice and express a desire for justice for individuals and for our larger community,” Olson said.
“Nobody benefits from such tactics, whether they be employed by people within our community or by people who have come from other places for advocacy of their cause. Those who are poor and most vulnerable in our society are the most jeopardized by such tactics.”
Defense attorney Bob Gill said in closing arguments on Dec. 14 that Dean had the right to self-defense once a gun was pointed at him. Prosecutor Dale Smith said that Dean didn’t give Jefferson a chance to comply with his command to put her hands up, and reiterated that there’s no evidence he saw a gun.
Olson added that the understanding of law “as an ordinance of reason” opposed to the “imposition of will to power by any individual or political group of individuals” upon other members of society is “an indispensable measurement for us in our desire for peace and in our shared work for justice.”
He also noted that it’s the perfect time of year to draw inspiration from the faith to promote change.
“This time of year when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, hailed as the Prince of Peace, it is also a time for everyone to ask God for our deliverance from violence, our conversion of heart and mind from fears and prejudices against those who are strangers to us, and for the inspiration and willingness to change and to do what God asks in treating each person as our neighbor worthy of respect, attention and love,” Olson said.
Follow John Lavenburg on Twitter: @johnlavenburg