Child suffered trauma as witness to Fort Worth officer’s killing of Atatiana Jefferson, lawsuit says

By Krista M. Torralva

DALLAS — The mother of a young boy who witnessed a Fort Worth police officer’s fatal shooting of Atatiana Jefferson has filed a lawsuit against the ex-officer, the city and its former police chief and mayor.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday in federal district court says the child, Zion Carr, “suffered extreme and severe mental and emotional distress, anxiety, terror and agony” from watching his aunt die while officers performed CPR.

Authorities also questioned the boy without parental consent, according to the lawsuit, which does not specify the damages being sought.

“At the age of 8, Z.C. was forced to watch the murder of his aunt, Atatiana Jefferson, at the hands of Fort Worth police,” the lawsuit says.

Dean’s attorney, Kenneth East, declined to comment Wednesday, saying Dean has not yet been served with the lawsuit.

Jefferson, 28, was playing video games with Zion about 2:30 a.m. Oct. 12, 2019, when she heard noises outside.

Police had been sent to the home in the 1200 block of East Allen Avenue, where Jefferson was staying with her ill mother, after a neighbor called a nonemergency line to report that the front door was open.

Footage from Officer Aaron Dean’s body camera shows him walking to the back of the house, then turning toward a window, yelling at Jefferson to put her hands up and shooting her through the window in a matter of seconds. According to an arrest-warrant affidavit, Dean and another responding officer did not announce their presence when they arrived at the home.

The lawsuit says officers had opened a fence to walk around the back of the house.

Zion told police that his aunt retrieved a handgun from her purse and pointed it toward the window, then was shot.

Dean, now 36, resigned from the department two days later and was arrested on a murder charge. He is awaiting trial.

The lawsuit, filed by Amber Carr, who is Zion’s mother and Jefferson’s sister, is the latest brought in the case. Other relatives are also suing the city and Dean. Carr’s lawsuit differs from theirs because it alleges Zion was assaulted when the officer shot into the home, threatening his safety.

East, Dean’s lawyer in that lawsuit, said the civil case has been put on hold until after Dean’s criminal trial.

“Our position is that by shooting and killing his aunt in front of him, and by firing a bullet into the house that he was inside, they did commit an assault against him,” said attorney David Henderson of the law firm Ellwanger Law LLLP. “For Zion, they threatened him with gunfire when they killed Atatiana and then … they wrongfully seized him, and they wrongfully questioned him without letting his family know where he was, or without having an adult presence.”

The lawsuit alleges that Fort Worth police have long allowed officers to use excessive force without reprimand and that its practices led to Jefferson’s killing.

The suit includes a list of people who were killed or injured by police between 2005 and 2019. In many of the cases, officers were not disciplined. The suit argues that the cases received media attention or were the basis of lawsuits, so Ed Kraus and Betsy Price — the police chief and mayor at the time of the shooting — should have been aware of them.

The cases show that the department “displayed a consistent and systematic failure to properly train and supervise its officers on the proper use of force, and techniques and principles of de-escalation, resulting in numerous incidents of officers unnecessarily using force resulting in serious bodily injury and death, particularly against people of color,” the lawsuit says. “The city’s failure to address these longstanding issues regarding race and the use of excessive force caused the death of Atatiana Jefferson and the assault of Zion.”

Jefferson was black, and Dean is white.

The lawsuit seeks compensation for medical bills, emotional distress and anguish but doesn’t request a specific amount of money. Carr also calls for “supervisory discipline up to and including termination for any employee or agent of the city of Fort Worth who engages in actions violating the Fourth Amendment.”

“What the family wants more than anything else is justice for their loved ones and for this to not keep happening to other people,” Henderson said.

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(The Dallas Morning News staff writer Tom Steele contributed to this report.)

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