Following the tragic death of Atatiana Jefferson in her home in Fort Worth this weekend, state Rep. Nicole Collier (D-Fort Worth), chair of the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, led a press conference on Tuesday calling for statewide reforms.
She was joined by several members of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus and family members of the victim.
Jefferson was apparently killed while babysitting her 8-year-old nephew.
Fort Worth police said that the accused officer was conducting what is known as a “welfare check” after a concerned neighbor called the department.
Jefferson’s death comes on the heels of the conviction of former police officer Amber Guyger in Dallas for the killing of Botham Jean in his home. Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean has been arrested and charged with murder.
“We are calling for a change in police training on de-escalation tactics especially in welfare checks,” she said. “While the vast majority of law enforcement officers do their work in a manner in accordance with the law, one death is too many.”
Collier wants to see changes to the peace officer training requirements, especially de-escalation tactics. She contrasted the 1000 hours of training required for a cosmetology license in Texas with the 728 hours required by law in basic peace officer training.
State Representative Matt Krause (R-Fort Worth) wants to more closely examine what new policies, if any, could help.
“If training in de-escalation can help, then I’m happy to discuss it, although my understanding is that this officer acted in a way outside any training he received. I want to talk to the experts and those who are knowledgeable about what can work to stop tragedies like this one,” Krause told The Texan.
Krause said the bi-partisan Criminal Justice Reform Caucus was recently formed to look for ways to help in this arena.
“We want to find common ground wherever possible on these issues, and if we can play a role as policymakers, then we should.”
State Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) advocated that Texas consider “clarifying use of force standards” by passing legislation similar to that recently passed in California.
Current Texas law justifies a peace officer’s use of deadly force when the peace officer “reasonably believes deadly force is immediately necessary” to make an arrest, prevent escape, and that “there is a substantial risk that the person to be arrested will cause death or serious bodily injury” to the police officer.
The recent California law that West advocates changed the standard for using deadly force from “reasonable” to “necessary.” The officer’s decision “shall be evaluated from the perspective of a reasonable officer in the same situation, based on the totality of the circumstances.”
The Black Lives Matter Global Movement withdrew its support from the California law, claiming that amendments agreed to by law enforcement agencies bill significantly weakened it.
Representative Harold Dutton (D-Houston), chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, is urging reconsideration of the process for hiring police officers. “I think we must identify those who should never have become police officers to begin with.”
According to the Fort Worth Police Department’s website, police trainee applicants must successfully pass a written test, physical assessment, polygraph examination, interview, medical examination, and extensive background check.
Mayor Betsy Price has directed the city manager to hire a “third-party panel of national experts to review the department.”
Dutton also believes that the presence of a personal firearm in the home where Jefferson was babysitting her nephew has no bearing on the case.
“She had a right to have that gun in the home under the Second Amendment. It has nothing to do with what happened.”
The arrest warrant affidavit includes statements by Jefferson’s nephew that she took her handgun from her purse and pointed it at the window when she heard noise in the backyard.
Questions were also raised at the press conference about why Dean went into the backyard and why he failed to announce his presence as a police officer before shooting.
Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.