Father of Atatiana Jefferson,Victim of Fatal Police Shooting in Texas, Dies

He lost his daughter to a fatal police shooting almost a month ago. Now, he’s gone, too.

The father of Atatiana Jefferson, the black 28-year-old woman who was shot and killed by a white Fort Worth police officer responding to an open door call, died on Saturday, a family spokesman said.

Ms. Jefferson’s father, Marquis Jefferson, died around 6 p.m. at the Methodist Charlton Medical Center in Dallas, where he had been since Friday night after having heart complications and cardiac arrest, the spokesman, Bruce Carter, said on Sunday.

Mr. Jefferson, 58, had been struggling with the death of his only child, Mr. Carter said.

“I can only sum it up as a broken heart,” he said. “He had to go through so much just to get through the services as a father, and continually doing good to make sure that who he was in their relationship was something he could honor.”

Mr. Jefferson’s death, so soon after his daughter’s, underscores the trauma and stressors faced by families who are touched by police violence.

In 2017, Erica Garner died from a heart attack at the age of 27. Her father, Eric Garner, a black man, was killed by a white New York police officer using an unauthorized chokehold in 2014. Mr. Garner’s last words, “I can’t breathe,” became a rallying cry for activists calling attention to police brutality across the nation.

Venida Browder, the mother of Kalief Browder, who killed himself at the Rikers Island jail in 2015, died a year after committing herself to an activist role, her son Deion Browder wrote in USA Today in April.

Ms. Jefferson was fatally shot through her bedroom window on Oct. 12 by a police officer after her neighbor, who had noticed the doors to her home were open, called a nonemergency police line and asked officers to check on the house.

At the time of shooting, Ms. Jefferson had been up late playing video games with her 8-year-old nephew.

The officer who shot Ms. Jefferson, Aaron Y. Dean, 34, resigned from the department and was subsequently charged with murder.

Mr. Jefferson buried his daughter a little over two weeks ago following a delay in the services as a result of a family dispute.

ImageAtatiana Jefferson’s death in October left her father “heartbroken,” his brother, Lapaca Jefferson, said. “I believe that’s what killed him.”
Atatiana Jefferson’s death in October left her father “heartbroken,” his brother, Lapaca Jefferson, said. “I believe that’s what killed him.”Credit…Jefferson’s family via their attorney, via Associated Press

“His body just couldn’t take what it had to endure,” Mr. Carter said.

Mr. Jefferson’s brother, Lapaca Jefferson, said his niece’s death left his brother “heartbroken.”

“I believe that’s what killed him,” he said.

It is impossible to know if Mr. Jefferson died of what is called broken heart syndrome, or Takotsubo cardiomyopathy, but a statement posted by S. Lee Merritt, the civil rights lawyer representing Ms. Jefferson’s estate, addressed the ripple effects on a family and community after a civilian dies at the hands of the police.

“It is a form of terrorism — a modern lynching,” he said, adding that Ms. Jefferson’s death “rocked the nation but no one felt it more than the people that were directly tied to her in life.”

Mr. Merritt, who also represented the family of Botham Jean, the black Dallas man who was killed by an off-duty white Dallas police officer after she mistakenly entered his apartment, said on Sunday that families that lose loved ones to police violence “are not allowed to grieve like other families.”

“They have to immediately go about the work of seeking justice,” he said.

The surviving family members may suffer mental and physical trauma from the loss of their loved ones, making them victims as well, said Christen Smith, a professor of African and African Diaspora and anthropology at the University of Texas in Austin, who has followed the cases of Marquis Jefferson, Erica Garner and others who have died after their loved ones were victims of police violence.

“It is a kind of deep sense of utter loss that is killing people,’’ she said. “For me, this is the fallout of police violence. If you think of these two police killings as a kind of disease, then the deaths of these family members are a sequela, a disease you develop in response to another disease.”

Surviving relatives, as they wrestle with the weight of their loss, may suffer health challenges, including heart attacks, strokes, depression and anemia, she said, all which could lead to premature deaths.

“Family members are dying in the wake of these killings and we are not paying attention to this,” Ms. Smith said.

Other risk factors can come into play as well, such as a person’s family health history, their lifestyle and diet and exercise habits.

But when people experience stress, such as a loss of a loved one — especially a traumatic and unexpected loss — they may experience not only the physical manifestations of that stress, but also changes to their daily habits, which, when mixed with other risk factors, could affect their health, said Dr. Timothy Sullivan, chairman of psychiatry and behavioral health sciences at Staten Island University Hospital.

“When there is no solution, such as occurs when nothing is going to bring back a loved one, it creates a very unhealthy state,” he said.

Johnny Diaz contributed reporting.

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