Atatiana Jefferson was not only shot and killed by a Fort Worth police officer in her home, her 8-year-old nephew, Zion, was there to witness it.
During a live press conference on Monday (October 14), Jefferson’s sister and Zion’s mother, Amber Carr, said her son has been consoling her more than anyone else, including the Fort Worth Police Department.
“He said, ‘Breath through your nose and out your mouth,’” Carr said about what Zion told her when he could hear her crying in her room.
The boy had “learned coping mechanisms in school,” the family’s attorney, Lee Merritt, said at the press conference.
Merritt also said, “Zion surprises me with how much he recalls. He was present the entire time. He never left the room.”
The little boy was in the house with his “Auntie Tay” playing the video game “Call of Duty” when police responded to a non-emergency phone call by their neighbor, James Smith, who was concerned that their door was open.
“It was a fall evening. They were up all night playing Call of Duty. She was a gamer and she loved playing with her nephew,” Merritt described.
“They lost track of time around 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning when they heard someone prowling around the house,” he said. “The neighbor perceived that as something strange knowing the mom was in the hospital.”
A SWAT team responded, according to Merritt, instead of “your friendly neighborhood cop.”
The officers canvassed the house as if a crime had been reported, Merritt said.
The officer that shot and killed the 28-year-old woman reportedly saw movement inside a window of the house and yelled for the person to raise their hands before shooting.
He did not identify himself as law enforcement.
“What would have happened if that little boy went to the window instead of his auntie,” Merritt said during the press conference. “He saw her when she fell. He maintains more composure than the Fort Worth police department.”
The family indicated that Atatiana had moved into the home to care for her mother, who is having health issues.
“Our family first would like to thank the thousands who called, who sent messages, who reached out via social media offering words of condolence,” Atatiana’s other sister, Ashley Carr, said during the press conference, describing what the family is going through as an “unbelievable time of shock and sorrow.”
According to Ashley, her sister was a “beautiful soul,” who was “committed to continuing her education.”
Atatiana was a pre-med graduate, who received a Bachelor's of Science Degree in Biology from Xavier University and was working in pharmaceutical equipment sales to save up for medical school.
“Any city would be proud to have her as a citizen and yet in the early mornings of Oct. 11, 2019, she was simply going on with her life and she was killed by a reckless act by a Fort Worth police officer,” Ashley said. “There was simply no justification for his act.”
Ashley added that the family is requesting the Fort Worth Police Department “to have integrity and bring the federal government in to investigate.”
“In closing, we demand justice for Atatiana,” Ashley told reporters.
The Fort Worth Police Department released an edited bodycam video from the incident and at one point it highlights a gun, which was inside the home.
“They threw in an unrelated photograph of a firearm to impute or blame the victim,” Merritt said at the press conference.
“When we look at the video and we see, it was several officers prowling around the property. It’s absurd when you know what the call was,” Merritt continued. “They released the non-emergency call yesterday. He gave no indication that he thought a crime was taking place. He said he saw some doors were open. “
Merritt described how officers parked around the corner and descended on the house in the predominantly Black neighborhood as if a crime was taking place.
“It’s unacceptable,” he said.
When asked if Merritt thought the officer -- whose name has not been released and is currently on administrative leave -- would be charged he was not confident given the department’s track record.
“Experience tells us that law enforcement aren’t competent in investigating themselves,” he said, adding how “they cut off the video immediately after the shot.”
Merritt is interested in hearing the conversations that took place between officers, who were from an “elite unit,” following the shot because he’s convinced that someone spoke up in disdain.
As for the gun found in the house, “It was a legally owned firearm that Tay is allowed to keep inside of her home and she also had a license to carry it,” Merritt said.
While it’s unclear whether Atatiana died at the scene or later at the hospital, Merritt said, “My understanding is she perished on the scene. We're waiting to hear back from the medical examiner as to where she was shot.”
Merritt also commented that there have reportedly been 10 police killings in six months from the Fort Worth Police Department, which is more than nationwide.
“It’s scary to see the Fort Worth’s response to this community,” he said.
Police officers take an oath to protect and serve and Merritt said, “This is what American communities should expect, but this is not the case in the Black community.”
He continued, “This is a pattern for that department and it seems common when dealing with people of African American descent.”
Merritt is not only requesting, on behalf of himself and the family, that an outside agency leads the investigation.
“We expect to hear that the officer is immediately terminated,” he added.
In response to the community’s outrage, Merritt said he wants people to continue voicing their opinions in an effort to reform a police department that urgently needs it.
“Rage, concern, investment, is the appropriate response for someone being killed in their home,” he said. “The pressure should continue until reform is made in the Fort Worth Police Department.”
However, he wants the outrage to be properly channeled, urging the community to “direct it towards policymakers.”
During the press conference, the family wanted to clear the air about something else that was concerning to them.
“Marquis Jefferson is not her biological father,” their mother’s oldest sister, Yolanda Carr said during the press conference, reading a statement on behalf of her sister who could not be there due to her ailing health, “Nor has he ever had legal custody of her.”
Jefferson spoke to reporters shortly after Atatiana’s death and said the GoFundMe page that had been set up for his daughter was not something he was aware of and that he was going to pay for her funeral.
“The GoFundMe page is family approved by Tay’s legal family,” Yolanda said during Monday’s press conference.
The family has raised a little over $160,000 towards their goal of $200,000, which will be used for Atatiana’s “funeral cost and other expenses associated with this tragedy.”
(Photo: Kimberly Dela Cruz / EyeEm)