Nephew describes moments before shooting

USA TODAY

Published 9:56 AM EDT Oct 14, 2019

An 8-year-old boy was in the room when his aunt was fatally shot while playing video games in her home by a Fort Worth officer who never announced that he was a police officer, authorities and the family confirmed.

Investigators were scheduled Monday to interview the officer who shot Atatiana "Tay" Jefferson, 28, early Saturday morning, police Lt. Brandon O’Neil said. Police also released audio of a neighbor's calm call to a non-emergency phone number that sent police to the home.

Jefferson, who was black, worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative. The officer, who is white, has served on the force for 18 months, police said. The shooting took place less than two weeks after former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger was convicted of murdering Botham Jean, a black man shot in 2018 as he ate ice cream in his home.

S. Lee Merritt, a lawyer for Jefferson's family, said the victim's nephew told him the duo had been up late playing "Halo" – with the doors open to enjoy the cool fall breeze – when they heard noise outside her bedroom window.

"They looked at each other and listened more intently when they heard it again," Merritt said in a social media post. "Someone was outside."

Merritt said the nephew described how his aunt went to the window to see who was there.

"Suddenly a man's voice was screaming something he couldn't make out, and then 'bang,'" Merritt said. Jefferson fell to the floor. Merritt said he didn't ask the child what he saw next because he didn't want him "to have to relive that" with him.

"I’m hurt. I’m angry. I’m a little afraid when I’m honest," Merritt said. "I hate this happened to (the nephew). I hate it happened to Tay and her beautiful family. This has to stop now. Enough."

O'Neil said neighbor James Smith called police at 2:23 a.m. Saturday morning, telling the dispatcher it was "not normal" for his neighbors to have the doors open and lights on at that hour.

Two officers arrived six minutes later. They did not park in front of the house, O'Neil said. Body camera video released by police shows officers, armed with guns and flashlights, circling the home. An officer stops at a window.

The video ends with an officer shouting, "Put your hands up, show me your hands" before the sound of one gunshot. Jefferson was killed with a bullet fired through her bedroom window.

O'Neil confirmed what the video appeared to show – that the officer never identified himself as police. Authorities have released a photo of a gun found at the home, but O'Neil declined to explain what if any role the gun had in the shooting.

"What the officer observed and why he did not announce 'police' will be addressed as the investigation continues," O'Neil said, adding that Jefferson's nephew was in the room.

A vigil in Jefferson's honor Sunday night drew hundreds of friends, family members, supporters and Mayor Betsy Price – who left when the vigil began morphing into a protest.

"As if killing this gentle sister wasn’t enough, I ask myself what would have happened if (the nephew) was the one to look out the window," Merritt said on social media. "Why is this a reality at all for either of them? I am truly heartbroken by this. We must have justice quickly. It cannot wait."

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