The Star-Telegram summarizes the tragic moments before Jefferson was killed.
Body camera video released by police on Saturday shows two police officers using flashlights to check the perimeter of the home, inspecting multiple doors that are open with a screen door closed. In the back of home, one officer appears to see a figure through a dark window, and he quickly twists his body to the left.
“Put your hands up! Show me your hands!” he shouts through the window, his gun drawn. He then fires a single shot through the window.
As BuzzFeed notes, the entire exchange took just four seconds. The officer does not identify himself as a police officer, and Smith told the Star-Telegram that police cars on the scene were parked around the corner, where they were not visible from inside the home.
Police also noted that a firearm was found in the home, though police have not made it clear if the firearm was found near Jefferson’s body, or even if it was found in the same room. Additionally, the statement says, the officer who killed Jefferson has been placed on administrative leave, but that’s about all the department is saying for now.
Police didn’t respond to a list of questions sent by the Star-Telegram, including if the woman had been holding a weapon, what the officer perceived as a threat and if officers ever knocked on the front door or identified themselves as police officers.
“Being the preliminary stages of this critical investigation we have provided all the information we have available to release at this time,” Lt. Brandon O’Neil said in an email.
The official word from Fort Worth Police is a very specific one that anyone who follows police shootings or “Stand Your Ground”-type defenses will recognize: “perceiving.”
“Perceiving a threat, the officer drew his duty weapon and fired one shot striking the person inside the residence,” the careful-language reads.
Jefferson was pronounced dead at the scene at 2:30 a.m. Saturday morning.
Criticism came swiftly from the Fort Worth community.
Local pastor Rodney McIntosh offered WFAA an impassioned reality check for everyone watching—black people included.
“It’s sad enough that our young men are being killed. But when our women are not safe, as men in our community we are called to stand up and protect the women in our community. And when our women are not safe, then it’s going to get to a point that we can no longer be passive. At some point we have to fight aggression with aggression. As pacifist Christians, yes, we’re called to love. We’re called to forgive. But we’re not called to be fools,” McIntosh told WFAA, as other Forth Worth faith leaders signaled their agreement.
Black people should not be expected to be passive as they continue to be killed, McIntosh added, before lamenting the short lifecycle of public outcry for similar events—and the equally short timespan before the next one.
Then he made a crucial, essential point.
“The thing with this, you can’t say she had a gun in her hand. It don’t matter if she did, because in all actuality, if the Castle Doctrine could have stood in the Amber Guyger trial, it could have stood in this one. She had the right to protect herself if she’s inside her own house.”
He then called for the officer’s termination.
A tweet from civil rights attorney and social justice advocate Lee Merritt offers additional details about Jefferson’s death, implying that he’s been in contact with her family. “She was playing video games with her 8y/o nephew, when they heard a noise in the backyard. When Tay went to investigate, she was shot to death.”
Merritt represents the family of Botham Jean, who was shot in his Dallas apartment by then-police officer Amber Guyger, who maintains that she thought she was in her own apartment, and thus Jean was an intruder. Guyger was convicted of murder on Oct. 1, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
As shock continues to ripple throughout Fort Worth and beyond, it’s possible that nobody is more stunned than James Smith, who is likely facing another sleepless night in the wake of a police officer killing the neighbor he was trying to help.
“They tell you, ‘If you see something, say something. Well, if you do that and it costs somebody to lose their life, it makes you not want to do that. And that’s sad.”
“If you don’t feel safe with the police department, then who do you feel safe with?” he continued. “Do you just ignore crime or ignore something that’s not right?”