The city of Fort Worth, Texas, will pay $3.5 million to settle a lawsuit connected to the 2019 death of Atatiana Jefferson, who was fatally shot in her home by a police officer.
Money from the settlement, unanimously approved by the city council Tuesday, will be placed in a trust for Zion Carr, Jefferson’s young nephew who at 8 years old witnessed his aunt’s death.
“We wish that Atatiana was still here, but she’s not, and so the best we can do is the action that this council has taken,” council member Gyna Bivens said on Tuesday.
A judge still must give final approval to the settlement, which provides that 40% of the payment will go to the family’s attorneys, said deputy city attorney Laetitia Coleman Brown. The settlement will cover his undergraduate college expenses, Brown said, with additional payments to continue until Carr is 40 years old.
“I believe this settlement is the right thing to do, and I hope this can bring a degree of reconciliation and healing for Atatiana Jefferson’s loved ones,” Mayor Mattie Parker said in a statement earlier this month.
A separate lawsuit filed against the city by Jefferson’s estate will continue.
The $3.5 million sum is among the multimillion settlements reached after other police shootings in recent years. Most notably, the city of Louisville paid Breonna Taylor’s family $12 million as part of a settlement, and the city of Minneapolis paid George Floyd’s estate $27 million to settle a civil suit.
The settlement comes more than four years after Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean, who is White, fatally shot Jefferson, a 28-year-old Black woman, in her home, in a case that touched on fraught issues of race, policing, gun rights and body-camera footage. Last year, Dean was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to nearly 12 years in prison.
Police had responded to Jefferson’s house around 2:25 a.m. on October 12, 2019, in response to a neighbor reporting her doors were open in the middle of the night. The neighbor called a nonemergency police number to ask for a safety check at Jefferson’s house.
Heavily edited body camera footage released to the public showed an officer peering through two open doors, but he didn’t knock or announce his presence. Instead, he walked around the house for about a minute. Eventually, the officer approached a window and shined a flashlight into what appeared to be a dark room.
“Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” the officer yelled before firing a single shot, according to the body camera footage.
At trial, Dean testified that he fired at Jefferson through a window because she pointed a gun at him.
Zion, who was 8 at the time of the shooting, testified he was in the bedroom with his “Aunt Tay” when she was shot. He said they had accidentally burned hamburgers earlier in the night, so they opened the doors to air the smoke out of the house.
He and his aunt were up late playing video games when Jefferson heard a noise outside, and she then went to her purse to get her gun, he testified. He did not see her raise her firearm toward the window, he testified.
Zion said he did not hear or see anything outside the window, but he saw his aunt fall to the ground and start crying.
“I was thinking, ‘Is it a dream?’” he testified. “She was crying and just shaking.”
He was confused by what happened and only later learned his aunt had been killed. “I was very upset,” he said.
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