Monday, October 14, 2019

It happens again: A white police officer in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, area fatally shoots a black woman while she looks out the window of her own home

Atatiana Koquice Jefferson

For the second time in two weeks, a white police officer in the Dallas-Fort Worth area has generated international headlines for fatally shooting a black resident in his or her own home. The most recent incident came early Saturday morning when an unidentified officer shot Atatiana Koquice Jefferson, 28, as she looked out a window of her Fort Worth home.

This comes on the heels of a Dallas jury finding officer Amber Guyger guilty of murder in the off-duty shooting death of Botham Jean after she had entered the wrong floor and mistakenly entered his apartment, thinking he was an intruder in her apartment, which was directly below.

These stories are hard to take here in the Schnauzer household. The reports likely add to the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) with which my wife, Carol, and I have been diagnosed after two incidents where heavily armed cops broke into our home -- both times with no lawful grounds for doing so, in apparent attempts to shut down our reporting on this blog about judicial and political corruption.

Loyal readers have kept us financially and emotionally afloat during the aftermath of these incidents, and we certainly need assistance right now. (See note at the end of this post.)

How does this kind of incident keep happening? This is from a report at CNN on the Jefferson shooting:

A black woman was shot and killed by a white police officer in her Fort Worth, Texas home after a neighbor called dispatchers to report the woman's front door was open, police said.

The officers were searching the perimeter of the woman's home when they saw a person standing near a window inside and one of them opened fire, killing her, Fort Worth police said.

The Tarrant County Medical Examiner identified the woman killed as 28-year-old Atatiana Koquice Jefferson. She died at 2:30 a.m. Saturday in the bedroom of her home.

Hours after the shooting, police released a heavily edited version of the officer's body camera footage. The nearly 2-minute video shows officers walking outside the home with flashlights for a few minutes before one of them yells, "Put your hands up! Show me your hands!" and shoots his weapon through a window. (The body-cam footage is embedded at the end of this post. Warning: The sheer stupidity of the officer -- firing his weapon into a home without identifying himself as a cop -- is disturbing.)

"The Fort Worth Police Department is releasing available body camera footage to provide transparent and relevant information to the public as we are allowed within the confines of the Public Information Act and forthcoming investigation," police said.

In a statement, police said the officers entered the home and gave the woman medical treatment, but she died at the scene.

The neighbor who thought he was doing a good deed by calling the police, said he now feels horrible and angry about what happened. From CNN:

James Smith, Jefferson's neighbor, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram he called a non-emergency police number when he saw her doors open and lights on in the early morning hours. He said he knew Jefferson was home with her nephew.

He said he was trying to be a good neighbor and called authorities so they could check on Jefferson.

"I'm shaken. I'm mad. I'm upset. And I feel it's partly my fault," he told the news outlet. "If I had never dialed the police department, she'd still be alive."

According to the Star-Telegram, the shooter did not identify himself as a police officer upon demanding that Jefferson raise her hands. What dangerous activity was going on at the Jefferson home? She was playing video games with her nephew:

Jefferson was playing video games with her nephew when they heard what they believed to be a prowler outside, her relatives’ attorney said. When she went to the window to see what was going on, she was shot, the attorney said.

Police said that the officer, who joined the department in April 2018, saw a person standing inside the house near a window.

“Perceiving a threat, the officer drew his duty weapon and fired one shot striking the person inside the residence,” the department said in a news release. “Officers entered the residence locating the individual and a firearm and began providing emergency medical care.”

Police released photographs of a gun they said that they found in a bedroom at the house. They did not say whether Jefferson was holding the weapon when the officer shot her.

Reading accounts of the Jefferson shooting cause horrifying images to flood our brains. As regular readers know, an Alabama deputy named Chris Blevins entered the garage underneath our house on October 23, 2013, and knocked me to a concrete floor three times and directed pepper spray into my face--all without showing a warrant, stating he had a warrant, or stating his purpose for being on our property. This all resulted from my alleged civil contempt in a lawsuit regarding alleged defamation, having nothing to do with a crime. I essentially was "arrested for blogging" and spent five months in the Shelby County Jail -- the first U.S journalist since 2006 to be incarcerated and apparently the only one in U.S. history to be jailed over a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction, both of which are unlawful under more than 200 years of First Amendment Law. To this day, my reporting on the relationship between Alabama GOP operative Rob Riley and lobbyist Liberty Duke never has been proven defamatory, as a matter of law. And what about the so-called "civil contempt"? We did not appear at a court hearing because we never were served with a summons to appear. In fact, we never were lawfully served with a copy of the complaint.

That's not our only experience with law-enforcement officers barging into our home. In September 2015, six to eight Missouri deputies (under the direction of Greene County Sheriff Jim Arnott) -- some dressed in SWAT gear -- conducted an unlawful eviction, which included one deputy pointing an assault-weapon at my head. The incident ended with cops slamming Carol butt-first to the ground and yanking on her limbs so violently that they broke her left arm -- a comminuted fracture that required roughly eight hours of trauma surgery, plus insertion of plates and screws for repair. As recently as this past weekend, she experienced significant pain in the arm.

After the Missouri cops finished terrorizing Carol and me, the so-called "eviction crew" ("thievery crew," working on behalf of landlord Cowherd Construction, would be a more appropriate term) placed all of our furniture outside at the sidewalk and proceeded to drive off with just about everything they could carry. We lost all of our possessions except the clothes on our backs -- furniture, clothing, household goods, etc. ("Neighbors" apparently helped themselves to our furniture while it was on the street.) We still are struggling to recover from that nightmare, launched by crooked cops.

Back to the question we raised earlier: How do these incidents keep happening around the country? From hard-earned experience, I have an idea or two. For one, cops seem to be increasingly reckless about their actions in and around homes, even though federal law says they are to be particularly careful in such surroundings.

In a case styled Payton v. New York, 455 U.S 573 (1980), the U.S. Supreme Court held:

The Fourth Amendment, made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibits the police from making a warrantless and nonconsensual entry into a suspect's home in order to make a routine felony arrest.

Why is this so? Here is background from the Payton opinion:

The physical entry of the home is the chief evil against which the wording of the Fourth Amendment is directed. To be arrested in the home involves not only the invasion attendant to all arrests, but also an invasion of the sanctity of the home, which is too substantial an invasion to allow without a warrant, in the absence of exigent circumstances, even when it is accomplished under statutory authority and when probable cause is present. In terms that apply equally to seizures of property and to seizures of persons, the Fourth Amendment has drawn a firm line at the entrance to the house. Absent exigent circumstances, that threshold may not reasonably be crossed without a warrant. 
The reasons for upholding warrantless arrests in a public place, United States v. Watson, 423 U.S. 411, 96 S.Ct. 820, 46 L.Ed.2d 598, do not apply to warrantless invasions of the privacy of the home. The common-law rule on warrantless home arrests was not as clear as the rule on arrests in public places; the weight of authority as it appeared to the Framers of the Fourth Amendment was to the effect that a warrant was required for a home arrest, or at the minimum that there were substantial risks in proceeding without one. Although a majority of the States that have taken a position on the question permit warrantless home arrests even in the absence of exigent circumstances, there is an obvious declining trend, and there is by no means the kind of virtual unanimity on this question that was present in United States v. Watson, supra, with regard to warrantless public arrests. And, unlike the situation in Watson no federal statutes have been cited to indicate any congressional determination that warrantless entries into the home are "reasonable."

Experience has taught us two things about post-modern cops that are driven home by the Dallas-Fort Worth shootings:

(1) A lot of cops are ignorant of the law they are sworn to uphold? How many cops have even heard of Payton v. New York and are familiar with its holdings? Our guess is that the percentage is in single digits.

(2) Many Americans, like the neighbor in Fort Worth, think calling the police makes sense because they are likely to solve a possible problem; we used to share that feeling. But no more. Experience has taught us the involvement of cops is more likely to make a problem worse than better. The body-cam video below the personal note provides evidence to support that claim.

(A Personal Note: The Legal Schnauzer journalism family -- including "Gabby, the Investigative Tabby," needs your help. Loyal readers have sustained this blog for years, and support is urgently needed now, as we fight for justice and transparency on multiple fronts, for ourselves and for the many other victims who have been the subjects of our reporting. Perhaps most importantly, we want to make sure Gabby has no shortage of "noms" in his bowl.

(If you believe America's broken court system needs to be restored; if you believe our courts should dispense justice for all Americans, not just an elite few; or maybe if you are a fellow animal lover who happens to enjoy a good legal tale now and then . . . we hope you will consider making a donation. 

(If you are able to help along our journalism journey, please click on the yellow donate button in the upper right corner of the blog, under the "Support the Schnauzer" headline. We are deeply grateful for your support through the years -- and we are especially grateful now to have Gabby, so he can join in a big round of thanks.)

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