Aaron Dean’s attorneys defamed the historic FW community

FORT WORTH – Newly constructed homes nestle against older, partially dilapidated homes on East Allen Avenue. Some lawns are manicured while others are unkempt.

“It’s not what you think it is,” Annie Rico, 36, said of her neighborhood. Rico’s home is adjacent to the fenced-in backyard where a former Fort Worth police officer fatally shot and killed a young black woman, Atatiana Jefferson, more than three years ago.

Rico said the “appearance” of the area contributes to the mischaracterization – played by the ex-cop’s lawyers at his trial – that it is unsafe. Aaron Dean’s attorneys have defamed the quiet, family neighborhood, residents say, as they described it as rough and crime-prone.

Rico said she never had any problems here, and neither did Jefferson – until Dean killed her at her mother’s house. Jefferson was 28 and an aspiring doctor.

Dean, 38, was sentenced Tuesday to nearly 12 years in prison for manslaughter. He was called to the home after a neighbor noticed lights were on and doors were open in the early hours of October 12, 2019. Dean and a colleague testified that the house appeared to have been searched and they believed it had been broken into. According to witnesses, if a burglar was inside, they didn’t report their presence before going around the back of the house. Dean spotted Jefferson through the window, shouted orders, and fired in less than a second.

Ex-Fort Worth cop Aaron Dean sentenced to nearly 12 years in prison for manslaughter

Carol Darch, the Dean officer that night, said the predominantly black neighborhood was a victim of property and drug crimes. Prosecutor Ashlea Deener told jurors Dean was a “power-hungry” officer with tunnel vision who had a “preconceived notion” that it was a crime-ridden neighborhood.

Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney representing Jefferson’s family, said at a news conference Tuesday night, “When the court called this community a ‘rough community,’ it was a euphemism for ‘black community.’ ”

“Because those two words are often used interchangeably — a black community or a troubled or troubled community — then we allow certain forms of policing that are much more militant and much more lethal than in other communities,” he said.

READ :  Southwestern Offers State-of-the-Art Courses to Educate Tomorrow's Lawyers | news

“And that’s part of the main problem here, that we have to stop classifying communities that are predominantly black as inherently dangerous.”

James Smith, the concerned neighbor who called a non-emergency police line, recounted The Dallas Morning News Tuesday outside Jefferson’s family home, it’s “not a rough neighborhood.” Smith, who has lived on East Allen Avenue for decades, scoffed at defense attorneys’ allegations that the area was dangerous.

Banners hang at the home where Atatiana Jefferson was killed in Fort Worth on Tuesday...
Banners hang at the home where Atatiana Jefferson was killed Tuesday, December 20, 2022 in Fort Worth.(Liesbeth Powers / Photographer)

A single bouquet leaned against a powder-blue porch railing in the Jefferson family’s modest one-story home on East Allen Avenue. Two banners reading “We Want Justice” and “Pull Up for Tay” fluttered from the gable roof in the brisk December wind. Memories of Jefferson are scattered along East Allen Avenue; Street signs refer to it as “Atatiana Jefferson Memorial Parkway”.

The house and an empty field to the right of it are now the home base of Jefferson’s eponymous foundation, which aims to bring urban youth into STEAM fields, her sister Ashley Carr said. Carr recalled the time she testified that the doors were always open. Zion Carr, Jefferson’s nephew, testified the couple left the doors open to vent smoke after burning hamburgers at dinner. Jefferson and Zion, then 8 years old, were up late playing video games the morning of the shooting.

Jefferson graduated from Xavier University of Louisiana and wanted to cure diabetes. She moved into the Fort Worth home to care for her ailing mother and Zion, whose mother was also in poor health while saving for medical school.

A mural commemorating her on the corner of East Allen Avenue and Evans Avenue shows her radiant face and wide eyes next to a strand of DNA. Withered flowers lie on a bench in front of the mural that reads “#SAYHERNAME”.

Rico’s house faces a community center that Smith renamed in honor of Jefferson Fort Worth Star Telegram previously reported. The nearby park sits atop a hill overlooking the downtown skyline — less than five miles from the Tarrant County Courthouse, where a jury found Dean guilty and convicted.

READ :  Boies warns top lawyers of 'toxic' influence of politics on the law

Tweety Angwenyi, co-owner of the HustleBlendz cafe less than a mile from Jefferson’s family home, said the neighborhood is misunderstood.

“The people of this community are some of the most loving and peaceful people I have met,” he said. “It’s a stretch to call this community a bad community. It’s a church plagued by poverty, yes. But the people here love each other.”

Angwenyi, who is following the case closely and has an ear for the heartbeat of the community, said people were struggling to “understand” Jefferson’s killing and he felt public outcry over her death had subsided.

“There’s a sense of numbness that comes from this community because we’ve seen that over and over again,” he said, “so for some people it just becomes another name.”

He said Dean’s ruling held the Fort Worth Police Department and former officers accountable, noting, “It’s a form of justice.”

The key questions for the jury during the guilt-innocence phase of the trial were whether Dean saw Jefferson’s gun – which she seized after hearing a noise in the backyard – and whether, as a police officer, he was authorized to use deadly force. He said he saw the gun.

Consquella Harmon, owner of Queen Nomrah Cannabis Dispensary, called the ruling disappointing and said it was “not enough for a living”.

“Nothing will bring her back, but that’s not justice,” she said.

Harmon wanted the jury to return the maximum sentence. The jury considered a sentence of two to 20 years in prison or probation. Dean’s defense attorneys asked for parole, while prosecutors said Dean’s actions warrant no clemency.

“Who gave Atatiana Jefferson clemency?” Harmon asked. ‘Who gave Botham Jean mercy? Who has shown mercy to all the other names?”

Botham Jean, a black man, was fatally shot by an off-duty Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger, at his home. Guyger, who is white, was found guilty of murder and sentenced to 10 years. Guyger, who was still in uniform, testified at her trial that she believed she was entering her home and that Jean was an intruder.

READ :  Bankman-Fried's attorneys say the October trial may have to be postponed

Estella Williams, president of the Fort Worth-Tarrant County branch of the NAACP, which is located in the neighborhood, said in a written statement that Dean’s actions “had a severe impact” on Jefferson’s family and the entire Fort Worth community, and that the emotional impact was tolerable feel “years coming.”

“His actions continue to inspire unease about the level of security in our own homes,” Williams said. “The fact that the sentencing decision is at the higher end of the sentencing spectrum is evidence that we are making progress toward justice.”

Harmon and Angwenyi’s shops are located in a commercial area on Evans Avenue — just blocks from the neighborhood’s old commercial center, denoted by a brown “Welcome to Historic Southside” sign in the shadow of an overpass.

The nondescript, easily overlooked sign at East Rosedale Street and Interstate 35W above divides Fort Worth’s south side. To the west are manicured sidewalks, iron lampposts, and rows of malls flanked by towering modern apartment complexes.

To the east is a modest downtown plaza just past the intersection of Rosedale and Evans. Some of the buildings have shutters and few cars line the street. Angwenyi said the neighborhood is a food desert, lacking its once thriving business scene — Fort Worth’s so-called Black Wall Street, Harmon said.

Arnaldo Pellot, who lives west of Jefferson’s family home, said he felt safe and his neighbors were welcome. Pellot, 34, moved into a newly built home in 2020.

“The community is quite excited for what’s to come,” Angwenyi said. He added, “People are concerned about whether this neighborhood’s history will continue.”

According to the city’s website, a developer has been hired to build an “urban village,” complete with apartments, green space, and a grocery store. Ashley Carr said at the press conference the neighborhood is “progressive” and new people are moving in.

“We need more people who aren’t afraid to go into the desert and look for water,” Angwenyi said, “and build some of the facilities that are here because that was once a staple.”