- The officer who fatally shot Atatiana Jefferson in her home early Saturday resigned from the department before he could be fired Monday.
- Shortly after, he was arrested and charged with murder.
- He was released from jail on a $200,000 bond a few hours later.
- Fort Worth police officials said they presented a preliminary case to the FBI to review for possible civil rights violations.
Ex-Officer Charged With Murder
The former Fort Worth police officer who fatally shot Atatiana Jefferson while she was home playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew Saturday was arrested and charged with murder.
Aaron Dean was booked into the Tarrant County Correction Center Monday evening. He was released about three hours after his arrest after posting a $200,000 bond, according to county inmate records. Police declined to say whether Dean was arrested by the department or if he turned himself in.
The murder charge is the latest development in a case that has sparked national outrage and reignited conversations about police accountability. Just hours before his arrest, Dean resigned from the department before he could be terminated.
Members of the Fort Worth community and Jefferson’s family are glad to see action being taken against the former officer, after a long weekend of calling for justice.
“The family of Atatiana Jefferson is relieved that Aaron Dean has been arrested & charged with murder,” Lee Merritt, an attorney for Jefferson’s family, said in a statement.
“A murder charge and an arrest is a good start — it’s more than we are used to seeing.”
However, like many others, Merritt is waiting to see how the case is prosecuted.
“He did get what I wanted him to get, and this is only the start,” Jefferson’s brother Adarius Carr told CNN. “There’s no way this is enough. We know this is a good step in the direction where we want to go, but it’s definitely not the end.”
Department Explains Resignation
Dean, who had been commissioned as a licensed officer with the department since April 2018, was served a written administrative complain on Sunday. He was also placed on detached duty and stripped of his badge and gun, Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus said at a news conference Monday when announcing the officer’s resignation.
“My intent was to meet with him today to terminate his employment with the Fort Worth Police Department. However, the officer tendered his resignation this morning before we met,” Chief Kraus explained.
Had he not resigned, Kraus said Dean would have been terminated for several policy violations, including the department’s use of force and de-escalation policies, as well as unprofessional conduct. Kraus said that Dean’s separation paperwork will still indicate that he was dishonorably discharged from employment with the department.
“I get it,” Kraus said of the public’s outrage following the release of body camera footage from the shooting. The clip showed that Jefferson had been given no warning that the men who had crept into her backyard were police officers. When Dean spotted her through her bedroom window, he quickly shined a flashlight at her and shouted “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” then immediately fired the fatal shot at her.
“Nobody looked at that video and said there was any doubt that this officer acted inappropriately,” the chief said.
The chief also addressed backlash the department faced over the mention of a firearm police said they found in Jefferson’s room. In the released bodycam footage, police included stills of the firearm, without offering any other information about its relation to the incident.
“Law enforcement has not said that she wielded a weapon,” Attorney Lee Merritt said adding that Jefferson legally owned the weapon. “Also, it wouldn’t matter, because that’s her home.”
Jefferson’s attorney also noted that she moved near the bedroom window because she was concerned about a prowler or burglar who might have been outside.
Kraus said he regretted that the department had released those images of the gun on the floor below the window in the bedroom after she was killed. He declined to say if she was holding it or if the officer saw it before he shot her, but he said that she had every right to have a gun in her bedroom.
“We’re homeowners in the state of Texas,” he said. “I can’t imagine most of us — if we thought we had somebody outside our house that shouldn’t be and we had access to a firearm — that we wouldn’t act very similarly to how she acted.”
Kraus noted that the department had presented a preliminary case to the FBI to review for possible civil rights violations, adding, “None of this information can ease the pain of Atatiana’s family but I hope it shows the community that we take these incidents seriously.”
Death of Atatiana Jefferson
Atatiana Jefferson had recently moved home to help care for her mother whose health was declining. She worked selling medial equipment and was studying to apply for medical school. On the day of her death, she stayed up with her nephew into the early hours of Saturday morning playing video games.
After noticing that Jefferson’s front and side doors had been open for several hours, a concerned neighbor called a nonemergency line requesting a wellness check on the residents inside.
Officers arrived around 2:30 a.m. but did not identify themselves as police when approaching the home. In fact, the neighbor who called authorities, James Smith, told local reporters that officers did not park in the driveway or in front of the home where Jefferson could see them but instead parked around the corner.
The bodycam footage released Saturday showed officers peeking into a screen door and walking around the perimeter of the home into the backyard where the fatal shot was fired.
Officers tried to provide Jefferson with medical assistance, but she died at the scene shortly after being shot. Her young nephew was in the room for the shooting and her death, according to authorities.
The shooting has drawn comparisons to the 2018 killing of Botham Jean, a 26-year-old black man who had been watching T.V. and eating ice cream inside his apartment when he was shot and killed by former off-duty Dallas officer Amber Guyger. Less than two weeks before Jefferson’s murder, Guyger was convicted or murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
While many in the community are hoping to see justice for Jefferson’s death, activists said this is the seventh local police shootings involving civilians, with six of them being fatal. Community members say the trauma they feel and their fear of the police department will be difficult to repair.
The neighbor who called for the wellness check himself has even expressed guilt over his decision. “I’m shaken. I’m mad. I’m upset. And I feel it’s partly my fault,” he told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
In an interview with CNN, he added, “I feel guilty because had I not called the Fort Worth Police Department, my neighbor would still be alive today,”
Supreme Court Sides With High School Cheerleader Punished for Cursing on Snapchat
The justices ruled that the student’s year-long suspension from her school’s cheer team over an expletive-filled Snapchat was too severe because her post was not disruptive.
SCOTUS Rules in Free Speech Case
The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that a Pennsylvania school district violated the First Amendment when it handed a cheerleader a year-long suspension from her team after she sent friends an expletive-filled Snapchat outside school grounds.
The case in question centered around a snap sent in 2017 by now-18-year-old Brandi Levy in which she expressed frustration at not making her high school’s varsity cheer squad. The snap, sent on a Saturday from a convenience store, shows Levy and a friend flipping off the camera with the caption: “F— school, f— softball, f— cheer, f— everything.”
That post was sent to around 250 people, including other cheerleaders at her school. When her coaches were alerted to the post, they suspended her from cheerleading for a year.
Levy and her family, represented by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, sued the school district, arguing that it had no right to punish her for off-campus speech.
A federal appeals court agreed with that argument, ruling that schools could not regulate speech outside school grounds. That decision marked the first time that an appeals court had issued such a broad interpretation of the Supreme Court’s landmark 1969 student speech ruling.
In that case, SCOTUS allowed students to wear black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War, declaring that they do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”
The high court did specify that disruptive speech on school grounds could be punished.
Off-Campus Speech Questions Left Unresolved
In Wednesday’s decision, the justices agreed that Levy’s punishment was too severe because her speech did not meet the test of being disruptive. However, they did not uphold the appeals court decision that schools never have a role in disciplining students for off-campus speech.
“The school’s regulatory interests remain significant in some off-campus circumstances,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in the opinion for the court’s majority. “Thus, we do not now set forth a broad, highly general First Amendment rule stating just what counts as ‘off campus’ speech and whether or how ordinary First Amendment standards must give way off campus.”
Breyer also added that specific question would be left for “future cases.”
In the sole dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas objected to that approach, arguing that Levy’s language met the threshold for speech that is disruptive and thus can be regulated off-campus based on past precedent. His colleagues’ ruling, he wrote, “is untethered from anything stable, and courts (and schools) will almost certainly be at a loss as to what exactly the court’s opinion today means.”
Both opinions are significant because while the majority decision focused more narrowly on whether the speech, in this case, was disruptive, the justices appear to be opening up space for a case that centers more specifically around the power of schools to regulate student speech off-campus.
Still, Levy and the ACLU cheered the decision as a victory for student speech off-campus, despite the court’s lack of ruling on the subject.
“Young people need to have the ability to express themselves without worrying about being punished when they get to school,” Levy said in a statement.
“The school in this case asked the court to allow it to punish speech that it considered ‘disruptive,’ regardless of where it occurs,” ACLU’s legal director David Cole added in separate remarks. “If the court had accepted that argument, it would have put in peril all manner of young people’s speech, including their expression on politics, school operations, and general teen frustrations.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The Associated Press)
Biden To Outline Actions Aimed at Combatting the Recent Rise in Violent Crime and Gun Violence
The president’s orders come the same day the Associated Press released data showing that a record number of gun sales were stopped last year because of background checks.
President Biden Issues Orders on Violent Crime Rise
President Biden will outline several actions on Wednesday that his administration plans to take to curb the recent rise in violent crime and gun violence.
That includes tougher enforcement policies for federal gun control laws, as well as new guidelines for how cities and states can use COVID-19 relief funds to combat gun violence. For instance, those guidelines will allow for the hiring of more police officers, paying officers overtime, buying equipment, and funding additional “enforcement efforts.”
Biden’s plan also includes investing in community-based intervention programs for both potential perpetrators and potential victims of gun violence and helping felons adjust to housing and work after leaving prison.
Background Checks Stop Record Number of Sales
Hours ahead of Biden’s announcement, the Associated Press reported that background checks blocked a record 300,000 gun sales last year, according to newly obtained FBI data provided by a nonprofit that advocates for gun control.
In fact, the numbers are staggering compared to previous years. For example, background checks that successfully blocked gun sales last year amounted to nearly twice that of 2019.
Notably, about 42% of those blocked sales were explicitly because would-be buyers had felony convictions on their records.
Still, it’s important to note that these stats don’t necessarily mean less guns are being successfully bought. While the rate of barred buyers has increased somewhat from around 0.6% to 0.8% since 2018, the U.S. also saw a record number of gun sales last year.
Nearly 23 million guns were bought in 2020 alone, according to the consulting firm Small Arms Analytics. Alongside that record, the country saw another record when it came to the rate of gun violence.
Because of that, Everytown for Gun Safety — the group that gave the AP the new background check data — reiterated its belief in the need for stronger gun control regulation.
“There’s no question that background checks work, but the system is working overtime to prevent a record number of people with dangerous prohibitors from being able to buy firearms,” Sarah Burd-Sharps, the group’s director of research, told the AP. “The loopholes in the law allow people to avoid the system, even if they just meet online or at a gun show for the first time.”
Unsurprisingly, gun rights advocates have pushed against that idea, and some have even pushed against this new data on background checks. As Alan Gottlieb — founder of the group the Second Amendment Foundation — argued, the higher number of denials could be partially because of false positives.
“A day doesn’t go by that our office doesn’t get complaint calls from people who’ve been denied wrongly,” he told the AP.
See what others are saying: (USA Today) (Associated Press) (Reuters)
California Plans Unprecedented $5.2 Billion Rent Forgiveness Program
State lawmakers are also debating on whether to extend the eviction moratorium, which is set to end next week, to ensure that Californians are not evicted before their debts can be paid off by the state.
Rent Relief in the Works
The California State Legislature is in the final stages of negotiating an unprecedented $5.2 billion rent forgiveness program to pay off unpaid rent accumulated during the pandemic.
It is not entirely clear yet who would receive the money, which comes from an unexpected budget surplus and federal stimulus funds. After speaking to a top aide for Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), the Associated Press reported that the $5.2 billion figure would cover all rent.
However, the same aide told The New York Times that the state had federal funds “to help pay the rent of low-income people.”
The outlet also explicitly reported that the program “would be available to residents who earn no more than 80 percent of the median income in their area and who can show pandemic-related financial hardship.”
Newsom offered little clarity, retweeting multiple stories and posts on the matter, including The Times article as well as others that said “all” rent would be paid.
Regardless, the program would be the most generous rent forgiveness plan in American. Still, there remains an unresolved question of extending the statewide eviction moratorium that ends June 30.
Eviction Ban Complications
Starting the new program and distributing all the money will take some time, and California has been struggling to keep up with demand for more modest rent relief programs.
According to a report from the California Department Housing and Community Development, just $32 million of $490 million in requests for rental assistance through the end of May had been paid.
State legislators are debating extending the protections and are reportedly close to a deal, but nothing is set in stone yet.
Tenants rights groups say the move is necessary to ensure struggling Californians are not evicted before their debts can be paid off by the state, and some housing advocates want to keep the moratorium in place until employment has reached pre-pandemic levels.
Landlords, however, have said it is time to end the ban, pointing to the state’s rapid economic recovery, which added 495,000 new jobs since February, as well as Newsom lifting all restrictions on businesses last week.
But according to Opportunity Insights, an economic tracker based at Harvard, while it is true that employment for middle- and high-wage jobs has now surpassed pre-pandemic levels, the rates for low-income workers are down nearly 40% since January of last year.
As a result, many of the people who have months or even a year of unpaid rent have barely been able to chip away at what they owe.
State Recovery Spurred by Revenue Surplus
Newsom’s new program comes as the governor has proposed a $100 billion recovery package — also drawing from the budget surplus and unspent federal funds — that would pour funds into numerous sectors including education, homelessness, and much more.
California is not the only state that has newfound reserves. According to The Times, at least 22 states have surplus revenue after pinching pennies during the pandemic. Some are still deciding what to do with the funding, but others have already begun to invest it into education, construction, the arts, and more.
While many economists have said these funds will be incredibly helpful tools to get economic recovery back on track and aid those hurt most by the pandemic, Republicans in Congress have argued to those surpluses should go towards paying for President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan.
The Biden Administration and most Congressional Democrats have remained adamant that the states keep their extra funding to implement recovery-centered programs. White House spokeswoman Emilie Simons reiterated that belief Monday, telling reporters that state surpluses will not alter America’s infrastructure needs and emphasizing that many states are still struggling economically.
“This crisis has adversely impacted state and local governments, and that is not fully captured by one economic indicator,” she said.