Protesters gathered on Sunday in Fort Worth to call for the arrest of the white police officer who shot dead a black woman in her home after arriving to conduct a welfare check.
Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was playing video games with her eight-year-old nephew in the early hours of Saturday morning, according to her family’s lawyer, when she was killed by an officer who had not parked in front of the residence or announced a police presence and appears to have given her no time to respond to his initial command.
“The officer observed a person through a rear window in the residence and fired a shot at that person,” Lt Brandon O’Neil of the Fort Worth police department told reporters on Sunday.
“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.”
“You didn’t hear the officer shout, ‘Gun, gun, gun,’” attorney Lee Merritt said after viewing video taken from a Fort Worth officer’s body camera. “He didn’t have time to perceive a threat. That’s murder.”
O’Neil said the unnamed officer, who has been with the department for about 18 months, would be interviewed on Monday by the department’s major case unit.
“We have communicated with the family and shared our serious and heartfelt concern for this unspeakable loss,” he said.
Body camera footage released by Fort Worth police shows an officer with a flashlight walk around the house. He then appears to catch sight of someone inside, yells, “Put your hands up, show me your hands,” then fires a shot through a window less than a second later. Jefferson died at the scene.
A neighbor, James Smith, called the department’s non-emergency line at 2.23 am to ask that police check on the house because the front doors had been open for several hours, which he said was “not normal”.
Jefferson was killed less than two weeks after Amber Guyger, a white former officer in nearby Dallas, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for the murder of Botham Jean, a black man who was eating ice cream in his apartment when she burst in and shot him.
Guyger claimed she thought she was in her own home and believed he was an intruder.
Fort Worth police said they released the 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 said only that officers who entered the residence after the shooting found a firearm, and Lt O’Neil would not answer questions on why police released images of the gun.
A large crowd gathered outside Jefferson’s home on 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 with 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,” the college president, Reynold Verret, said in a letter to students and staff. “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 Jefferson was working in pharmaceutical equipment sales and was considering going back to medical school.
The Fort Worth Police Officers Association issued a statement calling for “a thorough and transparent investigation”.
“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.