Atatiana Jefferson’s Castle

S. Lee Merritt, the Gloria Allred of Michael Avenattis, twitted that she was playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew, which doesn’t help nearly as much as he apparently thinks it does. Was his point that “Tay,” as he calls her as if they were old friends, was a neglectful, if not abusive, aunt? It was 2:25 in the morning, not really the time of day to play video games with a child.

But even if that’s true, despite the fact that Merritt’s history of presenting accurate claims isn’t exactly reliable, so what? Jefferson was, without question, safely ensconced in the one place in the world where she didn’t have to explain what she was doing, why she was there. She was in her home, her castle, and that’s all that matters.

Officers responded at 2:25 a.m. to the house in the 1200 block of East Allen Avenue. James Smith, who called a non-emergency police number, said he saw the doors were open and the lights were on, which struck him as unusual. He knew Jefferson, his neighbor, was home with her 8-year-old nephew.

Smith later explains that he blames himself, to some degree, for what subsequently happened. After all, he called the cops, even if his purpose was neighborly. Sure, he could have walked over, knocked on the door to check on Jefferson. Sure, he was a black man in a black neighborhood, and likely had some inkling that inviting the cops to investigate might introduce an element of risk to their world. Not for sure. Not even likely, perhaps, but no black person is of the view that calling the cops doesn’t involve the possibility that bad things will follow.

But Smith called the cops on their non-emergency line and they came.

Firing through a window, a white Fort Worth officer fatally shot a black woman inside her home early Saturday after police were called to the house because its doors were open, according to police and the neighbor who summoned them.

Atatiana Jefferson, 28, died in a bedroom, according to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office.

This was a welfare check, a call about the oddity of lights on, doors open, after 2 a.m. The cops weren’t told of a burglar, armed or otherwise, but merely an oddity that seemed worthy of concern. But with a few assumptions, a nefarious twist of possibilities, it wasn’t beyond the pale that a cop might consider that the reason for these oddities, for this concern, was that an intruder entered the home, left the lights on, left the door open, and harmed the person living inside.

When two units arrived, the cops approached the house with suspicion. No knock on the door to inquire if everything was all right, but circling the exterior, checking for signs of forced entry, of violence, of crime.

Until they came to a window, there was nothing suspicious to see, no one to blame, no one to fear. Then there was.

Body-worn camera video police released shows two officers using flashlights to check the perimeter of the house, inspecting two doors that are open with closed screen doors. At the back of house, one officer appears to see a figure through a dark window, and he quickly twists his body to the left.

“Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” he shouts through the window, his gun drawn. He then fires a single shot through the window.

In the video, he does not identify himself as an officer.

In a mind paralyzed by fear, the command of a police officer is all that’s needed. After all, the cop knows who he is, and knows he issued a command. And having already traveled the path in his head from a person who, for whatever reason, decided to leave the doors open, to a violent intruder as panic compelled him to assume the worst, most threatening possibility, the First Rule of Policing kicked in.

There was no time between his command and his firing at the “figure” through the window. Maybe in his head there was enough time for someone to process the command, react to it, comply, but that’s his delusion, not real life. Even so, why would a person within her own home understand some random scream from the outside to be a life and death command anyway? In her own home, Jefferson had no reason to put her hands up. She was home. Her home. Who gets to tell her to put her hands up in her own home?

Then she was dead.

The usual litany of excuses followed, as they invariably do.

“Perceiving a threat, the officer drew his duty weapon and fired one shot striking the person inside the residence,” the department said in a news release. “Officers entered the residence locating the individual and a firearm and began providing emergency medical care.”

Police released photographs of a gun they said that they found in a bedroom at the house. They did not say whether Jefferson was holding the weapon when the officer shot her.

This was Fort Worth, Texas, where a person can have a gun, inside their home or otherwise, because that’s her right. Not that it mattered, as there was no claim that the officer saw a gun at all, no less a gun pointed at him which would have been entirely reasonable as he was prowling the perimeter of her home at night without having alerted her to his being a cop.

The “perceived threat” was a woman in her own home, minding her business. No need to describe what a lovely person she was, as even an unlovely person is entitled not to be killed by a police officer because he created fear in his own mind when none existed. The cop, as yet unnamed, will take refuge in the Reasonably Scared Cop Rule, but the price of his irrational rush to panic is the life of a person in her own castle.

12 thoughts on “Atatiana Jefferson’s Castle

  1. Winston Smith

    As our host notes, the victim had no obligation to comply with a shout from the street. Thus best not to call the shout a “command,” as the word carries with it some notion of a duty of obedience. “Demand” may be better. I fail to find a stronger and clearer word, with Germanic roots, and not Latinate.

    And then there is the gun. Does the official story ever say that a cop “shot the woman, killing her”? Not in my experience. Instead, “the officer” “draws” a “service weapon” or “duty weapon” and fires one or more “rounds.”

    We get a little bit of straight language here. Maybe because it is Texas. The word “shot” makes it into the release. Still not as a verb, but more vivid than the usual.

    Here is another strong word, even stronger than shot: “murder.” The laws of Texas define murder as “intentionally or knowingly caus[ing] the death of an individual”. Is there any way to imagine that Ms Jefferson’s killer did not intend death? Premeditation and deliberation are not mentioned in the statutory definition. Murder is the right word.

    1. Ahaz

      As we have permitted, Officer safety trumps all else. We have allowed it willingly because as long as it happens to the other guy all is good. After all, someone has to make those supposed “split second” decisions.

    2. DaveL

      Instead, “the officer” “draws” a “service weapon” or “duty weapon” and fires one or more “rounds.”

      This is actually remarkable direct language for a police shooting. Remember, this is the culture that brought us “the female became deceased in the alley.”

    3. SHG Post author

      From the perspective of the killer, it was a command. We don’t know how Jefferson actually perceived it, if she heard it at all, because she’s dead.

    4. Fubar

      Villanelle as memo to the Tarrant County Criminal District Attorney.

      Atatiana will not see tomorrow.
      A bullet cannot exercise due care.
      Remember. Lift and quaff a cup of sorrow.

      What reason will police beg, steal or borrow,
      To see, shout, shoot at once, no time to spare
      This innocent who will not see tomorrow?

      Police reports, as always, claimed as thorough,
      Will blame the fear that nameless heroes¹ bear,
      And serve the rest of us a cup of sorrow.

      Reports, as dry and prickly as Saguaro,
      Will spin to exculpate, and finely pare
      A good shoot, why she should not see tomorrow.

      When is enough enough? Will none implore you:
      ‘Tween see and shout, premeditation’s there!²
      Serve Justice. Don’t just serve a cup of sorrow.

      Is Justice also deaf? Does Justice bore you?
      File Murder One, and argue for The Chair!
      Atatiana will not see tomorrow.
      Remember. Lift and quaff a cup of sorrow.

      FN 1: Or is the officer’s name withheld because he is a juvenile?

      FN 2: TX is not CA, but cf. CA jury instruction for First or Second Degree Murder With Malice Aforethought under Penal Code, § 187:

      Malice aforethought does not require hatred or ill will toward the victim.
      It is a mental state that must be formed before the act that causes death is
      committed. It does not require deliberation or the passage of any particular
      period of time.

  2. Jay

    Fuck you, Greenfield. You stopped speaking for the victims of these tragedies years ago. You offer civil remedies for murder. Like the dead can patient. Fuck you.

  3. Tom H

    Fort Worth had an almost identical killing happen about 5 years ago. 2 cops responded to a burglary call and went to the wrong house on the wrong side of the street. They walked around the house unannounced and into the backyard. The 70 something homeowner came into his garage with a handgun and they killed him. I just read within the last month the 5th circuit denied the officers QI on that killing.

    You would think there would be training to avoid repeats of the same “accidents”

  4. burban

    Update: Officer Aaron Dean resigned from the Ft. Worth police force. He has been arrested and charged with murder. Bond set at $200,000. Ft. Worth Police Chief Ed Kraus has been quoted as saying Dean would have been fired for violations of use of force policy and unprofessional conduct.

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