The Slatest

A White Texas Cop Killed a Black Woman Inside Her Own Home Because Her Door Was Open

Police tape is stretched across a street near a residence during a shooting on August 14, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Police tape is stretched across a street near a residence during a shooting on August 14, 2019 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Mark Makela/Getty Images

A white police officer in Fort Worth, Texas killed a black woman inside her own home after a neighbor called police because her front door was open. The neighbor, James Smith, called a non-emergency number for police early Saturday morning when he became concerned after he saw the doors to Atatiana Jefferson’s home were open and the lights were on. He knew 28-year-old Jefferson was home with her 8-year-old nephew and the whole thing struck him as unusual. Police responded to the call at 2:25 a.m., parked around the corner and began searching the perimeter of the house.

Body camera footage of the incident shows an officer seeing a door open in the home and then going around the house with a colleague. The officer then opens a gate and holds a flashlight as he walks into the yard of the house. The officer then looks thorugh a window and he appears to see a person through a window and quickly yells out: “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” Without ever identifying himself as a police officer, the officer fired a single shot through the window that killed Jefferson. The whole sequence took less than four seconds.

Jefferson was inside her home playing video games with her nephew when they heard noises outside. When she went to the window to see what was going on, she was shot, according to S. Lee Merritt, a lawyer who handles civil rights cases and is representing the family.

Smith talked to reporters later on Saturday and was struggling with guilt over his decision to make the call. “If I had never dialed the police department, she’d still be alive,” Smith said. He took part of the blame for Jefferson’s death and said it made him feel like never calling the police again: “If you don’t feel safe with the police department, then who do you feel safe with? Do you just ignore crime or ignore something that’s not right?”

Police have not named the officer involved in the shooting but said he joined the department in April 2018. “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 also released photos of a gun they said was inside the bedroom of the house but did not say whether Jefferson was holding, or even near, the weapon when she was killed.

The shooting immediately brought to mind Amber Guyger, a former police officer in Dallas who was recently sentenced to 10 years in prison for fatally shooting her unarmed neighbor in his apartment. It also marked the seventh time since June 1 that a Fort Worth police officer shot a civilian, six of whom died.