A white police officer who fatally shot a 28-year-old African American woman inside her Texas home was set to be interviewed on Monday by investigators as questions and outrage grow over the shooting.
The Fort Worth Police Department said officers responded at about 2:25am local time on 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 eight-year-old nephew when she was killed. A family lawyer, Lee Merritt, said the pair had stayed up late playing video games and “lost track of time” when they heard a noise outside of Jefferson’s bedroom window.
“You didn’t hear the officer shout, ‘Gun, gun, gun’,” Merritt told Dallas TV station KXAS after viewing video footage 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 50 kilometres (30 miles) west of Dallas, where another high-profile police shooting occurred last year. In that case, white Dallas police officer Amber Guyger fatally shot her African American neighbour Botham Jean inside his own apartment after Guyger said she mistook it as her own. Guyger was sentenced to 10 years for murder.
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 is 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 on 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 on Sunday 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 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.