The police partner of a former Fort Worth, Texas, officer on trial for murder in the 2019 death of Atatiana Jefferson testified Tuesday that Aaron Dean never said he saw someone with a firearm the night he shot and killed Jefferson in her home.
Officer Carol Darch and Dean had been responding to a call at Jefferson’s home when Dean, who is white, fatally shot Jefferson, a 28-year-old Black woman who was playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew.
During questioning from the prosecution, Darch testified that Dean never said the word “gun” or that he saw someone with a firearm before he shot her or after they went inside and searched the home.
Darch said Dean took the lead as they approached the house and moved toward Jefferson’s backyard. She said the two of them thought they might be at the scene of a burglary and did not announce themselves.
Dean and Darch went to the home after a concerned neighbor noticed a door had been left ajar and called a nonemergency police line. Jefferson, according to court documents, was up late that night playing video games and caring for her 8-year-old nephew, Zion Carr. According to police and body camera footage, Dean failed to identify himself before firing his weapon and striking Jefferson.
Dean pleaded not guilty Monday to the murder charge.
Zion, who is now 11, testified Monday that the screen doors were open after he and his aunt burned hamburgers they had planned to eat for dinner. The two then continued to play video games into the night.
Zion said his aunt pulled out her gun and kept it at her side after hearing noises outside, both of them unaware police had been called to the home.
Darch said when she turned around she did not see Jefferson’s gun and could only see Jefferson’s face in the window with “eyes as big as saucers.”
Darch said that when they went into the room where Jefferson had been shot, she saw Zion crying and wrapped him in a blanket and took him outside.
“I heard the baby and that became my sole focus,” she said.
Darch cried as she spoke about being concerned for the boy’s well-being and asked the judge to pause her testimony.
Dean’s lawyers have said Dean acted reasonably while responding to what he believed might have been a burglary in progress.
James Smith, the neighbor who called police that night, also testified Tuesday and said he had received a call from his family members around 2 a.m. expressing concern for his neighbors because they had seen a front door and a side door open at Jefferson’s house.
Smith said he called the nonemergency line and not 911 because he was not sure what was happening.
“It did not appear to be an emergency,” he said.
Smith said it was “devastating” to learn Jefferson had been shot by police and that he lives with the consequences of his phone call and Jefferson’s death “every day, every day.” He said he feels “somewhat” responsible for it.
Dean’s attorneys asked Smith whether there was crime in the neighborhood, and he said that while there were problems in part of it, the area where he lives was safe.
“It could be less. It should be less than what it is,” he said, referring to how much crime is in the neighborhood.
Jefferson’s death echoes that of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman fatally shot by police in 2020 in her Louisville, Kentucky, apartment. Both shootings led to widespread criticism and prompted calls for police accountability and racial justice in law enforcement.
During opening statements Monday, prosecutors said Jefferson’s death was “an unjustifiable act that never should’ve happened.”
Dean’s attorney, Miles Brissette, said during opening statements that Dean saw a gun being raised, gave the command and fired.
Dean, who resigned from the Fort Worth Police Department before his arrest, was indicted by a Texas grand jury in December 2019 on a murder charge.
Jefferson graduated from Xavier University with a degree in chemistry. She returned home after college to help family with health issues and was planning to attend medical school.