Releasing gun photo inappropriate, Fort Worth chief says

A large crowd of protesters, including a man carrying an upside-down American flag, gather outside the house where Atatiana Jefferson was shot Saturday and killed by police, during a community vigil for Jefferson on Sunday, Oct. 13, 2019, in Fort Worth, Texas. A white police officer who killed the black woman inside her Texas home while responding to a neighbor's call about an open front door "didn't have time to perceive a threat" before he opened fire, an attorney for Jefferson's family said. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News via AP)

Fort Worth's interim police chief says it was inappropriate for police to release a photo of handgun found inside the home of a black woman who was killed by a white police officer, noting that many Texas homeowners keep guns nearby for self-protection

After a white Fort Worth police officer fatally shot a black woman inside her home, police swiftly released body camera footage that depicted the moments before the shooting, saying they were doing so in the interest of transparency.

But that footage also included blurry photos of a handgun found inside the home, leading many to question whether police were trying to demonize 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson, who was playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew when she was struck by the officer's gunfire, family members said.

Fort Worth Interim Police Chief Ed Kraus admitted Monday that it was inappropriate to release the photos of the gun.

"That is something we've done in the past — to include the photograph of the firearm to show what the perceived threat may have been," Kraus said at a Monday press conference, where he announced that Officer Aaron Dean had resigned from the force following Saturday's shooting. "And in hindsight, it was a bad thing to do."

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price called the gun "irrelevant."

"Atatiana was in her own home, caring for her 8-year-old nephew," Price said in a statement. "She was a victim. And she was taken from her family in circumstances that are truly unthinkable."

Kraus said he did not know whether Jefferson was holding the gun when the officers approached in the backyard but that the gun was found near the window where the fatal shot was fired.

"We're homeowners in Texas ... Most of us, if we thought we had somebody outside our house that shouldn't be, and we had access to a firearm, we would be acting very similarly to how she was acting," he said.

Texas has had a "castle doctrine" law on the books since 2007 that gives people a strong legal defense to use deadly force in their homes. The law was backed at the time by the National Rifle Association and is similar to "stand your ground" measures across the U.S., stating that a person has no duty to retreat from an intruder.

Kraus said Monday that there's no indication that the officers knocked on the front door, and that Jefferson died from a gunshot fired through a window accessible from the fenced-in backyard. Based on the body camera footage, Dean did not identify himself as a police officer before firing his weapon.

Dean has not yet hired an attorney but will have one provided with financial support from the state's largest police union, the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, according to Charley Wilkison, the group's executive director.

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Bleed wrote from Little Rock, Arkansas. Associated Press writer Paul Weber in Austin contributed to this report.

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