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Relatives Of Texas Woman Killed By Police Demand Independent Investigation

Oct 15, 2019
Originally published on October 15, 2019 9:00 am
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The mayor of Fort Worth, Texas, is on the line this morning. Betsy Price joins us after a Fort Worth police officer was charged with murder in the death of Atatiana Jefferson. She was in her home when the officer responding to a call about a door left open shot her through a window. Mayor Price, welcome to the program.

BETSY PRICE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: You have said already that you believe this shooting was not justified. What evidence led you to that?

PRICE: That's correct. I mean, nothing that was done here goes with the training our officers receive. It was an unsecure structure call, and they didn't identify themselves as police. And with the exception of SWAT, they rarely shoot directly into a house because they can't see what's inside.

INSKEEP: So they should have moved a little more slowly, maybe said a few words, identified themselves. They should have done more than they did before that officer shouted a few words and then opened fire.

PRICE: You know, that would be my assumption. Obviously, none of us were on the scene except the officer and his partner. But the - my understanding is that, certainly, he should have identified himself as a police officer.

INSKEEP: Did you watch the video that has been released by the police...

PRICE: Yes.

INSKEEP: ...This is the bodycam video?

PRICE: Yes, I've seen the one that's been released.

INSKEEP: What went through your mind as you effectively follow along with that officer looking in the open door, moving around to the dark side of the house, and then something happens and he shoots in the window?

PRICE: You know, again, even the bodycam footage is hard to see exactly what that officer saw. But it's horrifying as quick as he shot. And again, he didn't identify himself as a police officer.

INSKEEP: We should note that the police chief, rather than defending the officer, has already apologized to Ms. Jefferson's family. It does make me wonder, though - do you hear any pushback from, down the ranks in police, people who feel that they're being unfairly targeted here?

PRICE: No, I don't think so. Not - the officers that I've talked to are as equally horrified as the rest of us and saddened. They're heartbroken that a community of officers that the city respects and trusts, that one bad act can destroy that trust in the community. And we have to build that back. And they understand this is a tragic situation.

INSKEEP: Mayor, I want to ask about something else. You have said the shooting was not justified - that the officer, based on the video, seems not to have followed his training, seems not to have identified himself properly. And you mentioned one bad situation. But as you know very well, there have been two - in your part of Texas - two instances in which white police officers shot African Americans and killed them inside their own homes. And because of the questions of race, because of other questions about police shootings, it does make me wonder if you think there is a larger issue here. And if there is a larger problem, how do you define it?

PRICE: You know, I think it's hard to quantify that, whether there is or isn't. After we had a racial issue - not a shooting but an issue with our police department - a year and a half ago, we created a race and cultural task force. And as a result of that, we're hiring a diversity inclusion officer for the city, and we're hiring a police monitor who will come in and look at all our training procedures, all our processes.

And then as a result of this shooting, we are going to hire a panel of experts who will look at de-escalation, use of force and training for our officers. We intend to take a really thorough deep dive and see if there's some systemic issues here that have to be addressed.

INSKEEP: When you look at statistics like the simple fact that black men are shot by police officers far more often than other people, just to give an example, do you presume there is a systemic issue in your police department and many, many others that you need to address in some way?

PRICE: You know, I'm not going to make that presumption. But I think this study, with - both with our monitor and with the panel, will help us better understand many - all of the shootings that we've had in Fort Worth in the last year or two have certainly been what we call justified. No shooting is ever something you want, but they are justified if the officer is threatened or has a - that whoever they're after has a gun in their hand. So every shooting is different, and every one must be looked at individually. But we have to look at the department as a whole, also.

INSKEEP: One other thing, Mayor, as you may know, the family of Ms. Jefferson is demanding a federal investigation - in other words, an independent investigation. Do you believe that that is necessary?

PRICE: No, sir. I trust our internal affairs and our major case. And we have a third-party criminal district attorney who will be involved in this, and that's at the county level. And her staff will be intimately involved. I think it can be done. We have called the Texas Rangers. The chief called them. And they have declined at this point but said they'd continue looking at it. And obviously, any time we have situations like this, we call the FBI to see if there's - might be a civil rights violation. And so they are involved at that level.

INSKEEP: All right. Mayor Price, thank you so much. Appreciate your insights.

PRICE: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: Betsy Price, mayor of Fort Worth, Texas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.