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Shown here with musician Jeff Dazey, Zion Carr was playing video games with his aunt, Atatiana Jefferson, when she was fatally shot by police. Photo by Brooks Burris with artwork by Jenny Lane

The news of a trial date for former Fort Worth police officer Aaron Dean came as a sign of “new hope,” said Chris Nettles, the city councilmember who has long called for an end to delays in setting Dean’s court date, which will now begin mid-November.

Nearly two years ago, Dean, a white officer, shot and killed Atatiana Jefferson, a Black woman, through a window as she played video games with her nephew Zion Carr. A neighbor had called a nonemergency line to alert police to an open door at the home Jefferson shared with her mother on the South Side. Dean, who currently faces murder charges, resigned from the Fort Worth police department shortly after the shooting and remains free on bail.

Tarrant County failed to understand the importance of Dean’s trial, Nettles said. Two years of public protests, persistent calls to the district attorney’s office, and public outcry have successfully made this day possible, he said. In June, Nettles fulfilled a campaign pledge to hand-deliver letters to DA Sharen Wilson and Judge David Hagerman, who will oversee the trial, that called for a trial date to be set for Jefferson’s murder.

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“I send this letter to you today asking you to do what’s right — not just morally right but lawfully right,” read the letter from Nettles’ office. “We are approaching two years since Atatiana’s murder, and the man indicted for her murder remains free. It is time for Aaron Dean to have his day in court.”

Hagerman declined to accept the letter as Nettles and his district office manager waited for 30 minutes outside his courtroom (“Councilmember Fulfills Pledge to Seek Trial for Dean,” June 30).

“I’m trying to change the dynamics of the way Tarrant County and Fort Worth are run,” Nettles said. “We have the good-ol’-boy system here.”

Nettles said that staffer with the Fort Worth Police Officers Association have told him that the police union will be supporting Dean’s defense efforts. A 2019 press release from Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas (CLEAT), a state-level law enforcement advocacy group, states that CLEAT is also paying for part of Dean’s legal defense.

“CLEAT’s duty to fund a portion of Mr. Dean’s legal defense is clearly outlined in our organization’s legal plan,” CLEAT’s public statement read. “Mr. Dean is free to pick any criminal defense law firm he so chooses.”

Dean is represented by attorney Jim Lane.

Nettles said that he will avoid visiting the court during the trial proceedings. His role as city councilmember involves supporting Jefferson’s family and the community, he said.

Related to Dean’s trial is the advancement of a civilian oversight board that could advise city councilmembers on future incidents that involve civilian shootings and beatings at the hands of police officers. Fort Worth police monitor Kim Neal will present her department’s recommendations on what a civilian oversight board should look tonight (Tuesday) at council’s next scheduled meeting, Nettles said.

Nettles said he will call for a vote on the recommendations to be scheduled in the coming weeks. Although mayoral and city council elections are officially nonpartisan, Fort Worth’s current nine-member city council, which includes Mayor Mattie Parker as a voting member, now leans left 5-4.

“Our leadership understands that we need some type of police review,” Nettles said. “It will boil down to whether they like [Neal’s] recommendations or not. I’ll be pleased with a 5-4 [vote in favor of police oversight], but I’m hoping we can show a little more strength with a 6-3 or 7-2 vote.”

 

 

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