Texas officer faces questions after killing black woman at home

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Protesters gather outside the house, right, where Atatiana Jefferson was shot Saturday and killed by police, during a community vigil for Jefferson on Sunday, October 13, 2019, in Fort Worth, Texas. (Photo: AP)

A white police officer who fatally shot a 28-year-old black woman inside her Texas home was set to be interviewed by investigators Monday as questions and outrage grow over the shooting.

The Fort Worth Police Department said officers responded about 2:25 am Saturday after a neighbour called a non-emergency line to report the home’s front door had been left open. The responding officer fired a shot through the home’s window, killing Atatiana Jefferson.

Police said Jefferson was with her 8-year-old nephew when she was killed. A family attorney, Lee Merritt, said the pair had stayed up late playing video games and “lost track of time” when they heard noise outside Jefferson’s bedroom window.

“You didn’t hear the officer shout, ‘Gun, gun, gun,'” Merritt told Dallas TV station KXAS after viewing video taken from a Fort Worth officer’s bodycam.

“He didn’t have time to perceive a threat. That’s murder.”

The shooting occurred in Fort Worth, about 30 miles (50 kilometres) west of Dallas, where another high-profile police shooting occurred last year.

In that case, white Dallas police officer Amber Guyger fatally shot her black neighbour Botham Jean inside his own apartment after Guyger said she mistook it as her own.

Fort Worth police said in a statement that officers saw someone near a window inside the home and that one of them drew his duty weapon and fired after “perceiving a threat.” The video released by police shows two officers searching the home from the outside with flashlights before one shouts, “Put your hands up, show me your hands.” One shot is then fired through a window.

In the video, the officer does not identify himself as police.

Fort Worth police said it released the bodycam footage soon after the shooting to provide transparency, but that any “camera footage inside the residence” could not be distributed due to state law.

However, the bodycam video released to media included blurred still frames showing a gun inside a bedroom at the home. It’s unclear if the firearm was found near Jefferson, and police have not said that the officer who shot her thought she had a gun.

The police statement released Saturday said only that officers who entered the residence after the shooting found a firearm, and Lieutenant Brandon O’Neil would not answer reporters’ questions Sunday on why police released images of the gun.

O’Neil said the officer, whose name has not been released, would meet with investigators from the Fort Worth Police Department on Monday about the shooting. Police previously said the officer, a white man, joined the department in April 2018.

A large crowd gathered outside Jefferson’s home Sunday night for a vigil after earlier demonstrations briefly stopped traffic on part of Interstate 35.

Jefferson was a 2014 graduate of Xavier University in New Orleans and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, the university said.

“Our prayers and thoughts are with her family and friends as we gather as a community in prayer,” President Reynold Verret said in a letter to the Xavier community. “As we wait for details of this incident to unfold, let us cling to our mission of justice and humanity and seek answers to this tragedy.”

Merritt told the Star-Telegram that Jefferson was working in pharmaceutical equipment sales and was considering going back to medical school.

The Fort Worth Police Officers Association issued a statement Sunday calling for “a thorough and transparent investigation” into the shooting.

“The members of the FWPOA love the citizens that we serve, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Atatiana Jefferson; our hearts are heavy,” the statement said.

The shooting comes less than two weeks after Guyger, the former Dallas police officer, was sentenced to 10 years in prison after being convicted of murder in the fatal shooting of Jean.

Guyger, 31, said during her trial that mistook Jean’s apartment for her own, which was one floor below Jean’s. Merritt also represents Jean’s family.