Sentencing begins in police killing of Atatiana Jefferson

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Aaron Dean listens to testimony during the sentencing phase of his trial at Tarrant County's 396th District Court on Friday, Dec. 16, 2022, in Fort Worth, Texas. Dean, a former Fort Worth police officer, was found guilty of manslaughter in the 2019 shooting death of Atatiana Jefferson. (Amanda McCoy/Star-Telegram via AP, Pool)

FORT WORTH, Texas – A psychologist testified Friday that a former Texas officer who fatally shot Atatiana Jefferson through a rear window of her home had a “narcissistic personality style” that made him unsuitable for police work.

The testimony came in the sentencing phase of the trial for Aaron Dean, who was found guilty of manslaughter Thursday in a rare conviction of an officer for killing someone who was also armed with a gun. Dean, 38, faces up to 20 years in prison.

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The white Fort Worth officer shot the 28-year-old Black woman while responding to a call about an open front door.

The sentencing phase is set to continue Monday morning with closing arguments.

Psychologist Kyle Clayton evaluated Dean in March 2017 after Dean applied for a job with the Fort Worth Police Department. Clayton testified that he found that Dean “was not psychologically suitable to serve as a police officer.”

"The results had suggested that he had a narcissistic personality style that would inhibit his judgment, decision-making, interpersonal abilities and would make him more likely to engage in behaviors that could put himself and others at risk,” Clayton said.

Clayton said that officers like Dean who fail an evaluation can appeal. They then go before a panel of three psychologists. If the panel unanimously agrees that someone is suitable, the candidate can be hired.

Fort Worth police declined to comment Friday on Dean's hiring.

Others who testified at the sentencing phase included a woman who attended the University of Texas at Arlington with him and reported him to campus police for touching her inappropriately.

A man who attended church with Dean, Tim Foster, testified for the defense, saying he found Dean to be “dependable, upright, noble.” Foster said Dean organized an annual Christmas program at the church.

Dean's mother and two of his siblings were also among those testifying, describing him as an analytical rule-follower who wanted to be a police officer to help people.

Dean shot Jefferson on Oct. 12, 2019, after a neighbor called a nonemergency police line to report that the front door to Jefferson’s home was open. She had been playing video games that night with her 8-year-old nephew and it emerged at trial that they left the doors open to vent smoke from hamburgers the boy burnt.

During the trial, the primary dispute was whether Dean knew Jefferson was armed. Dean testified that he saw her weapon; prosecutors claimed the evidence showed otherwise.

The case was unusual for the relative speed with which, amid public outrage, the Fort Worth Police Department released video of the shooting and arrested Dean. He’d completed the police academy the year before and quit the force without speaking to investigators.

Since then, the case was repeatedly postponed amid lawyerly wrangling, the terminal illness of Dean’s lead attorney and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Body camera footage showed that Dean and a second officer who responded to the call didn’t identify themselves as police at the house. Dean and Officer Carol Darch testified that they thought the house might have been burglarized and quietly moved into the fenced-off backyard looking for signs of forced entry.

There, Dean, whose gun was drawn, fired a single shot through the window a split-second after shouting at Jefferson, who was inside, to show her hands.

Dean testified that he had no choice but to shoot when he saw Jefferson pointing the barrel of a gun directly at him. But under questioning from prosecutors he acknowledged numerous errors, repeatedly conceding that actions he took before and after the shooting were “more bad police work.”

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