“Your service as jurors is concluded.”

A standing gag order on Fort Worth council member Chris Nettles and Mayor Mattie Parker was lifted Tuesday after a jury sentenced Aaron Dean to 11 years, 10 months and 12 days in prison for the killing of Atatiana Jefferson in 2019. 

Parker declined to comment in the aftermath of the sentencing. Nettles, however, had a lot to say.

“He killed an innocent woman in her bedroom. He should have received murder,” Nettles told reporters. “So we’re not excited about 20 years, but we are grateful he got 11 years.”

He released a longer statement shortly after, writing in part that “this verdict is the bare minimum. Since when are we ‘lucky’ to sentence a proven murder to prison? Are we supposed to celebrate the fact that the justice system actually did its job? Black people are tired of being told to ‘be grateful’ and ‘look at the bright side’ when getting handed the crumbs of society.”

Nettles’ comments came after the judge overseeing the trial, 396th District George Gallagher, ordered both Nettles and Parker to appear in court Jan. 4 to argue why they should not be found in contempt of court for defying the gag order. If found in violation of the gag order, Parker and Nettles could face a fine or jail time.  

The order itself, issued Oct. 25, 2019 by the initial judge overseeing the case, was a holdover from when Parker and Nettles were sworn in as witnesses in a 2021 pre-trial hearing about a venue transfer request. It limited pre-trial comment by attorneys and others connected closely to the case.

Nettles and Parker both released statements to the press after the jury found Dean guilty of manslaughter in Jefferson’s killing. Both statements were published by the Fort Worth Report and other media outlets. 

Gallagher held the council members to the pre-trial gag order set by his predecessor, taking many in the courtroom and community at large by surprise.

“I think that the gag order was really a move to silence a voice, a community,” Nettles said. “I was never a fact witness to the case.They did call me in on the transfer. And I actually believe that once that transfer venue (hearing) was complete, we should have been released.”

A media attorney previously told the Report the case against Parker and Nettles is tenuous at best, as neither of their statements introduced new evidence that could influence jurors during sentencing. 

“I think that the city was at a place of unrest. And the community was at a place of unrest,” Nettles said. “And so we got a sentence of manslaughter, which was hard for us to take. And so we buckled up our shoes and came back each day to see what the sentence was going to be.” 

Dean’s sentence means he will not receive probation — a probated sentence was only possible if he received a sentence of 10 years or less. He’ll be eligible for parole after serving half of his sentence.

“There is a sentiment of being pleased with 11 years, that he’s not going to go out on probation, but we, as a community, still feel like that we get the short end of the stick,” Nettles said.

For Jefferson’s sisters, nothing will make up for her death.

“No amount of sentencing will make me feel like we got some kind of justice,” Amber Carr wrote in a statement that was read to the courtroom by her sister Ashley Carr.

Ashley, the last witness to speak before the jurors were released, reiterated the pain experienced by her family, and the toll it took on her individually.

“As her big sister, I live every day with the pain that I could not do my job and protect her.”

Nettles said while the community can take a deep breath as a result of the sentencing, it will not be the last time a Black resident is killed by a police officer. 

“We must continue to stay vigilant and on defense. I will not rest until my Black community can finally feel safe in their own homes without fear of being shot to death.”

As for his Jan. 4 contempt hearing, Nettles said he’s ready to defend his right to comment after the verdict.

 “My stance is that I am an elected official. I have been very vocal about this case. I’m not a factual witness. So anything that I say is strictly my opinion or my thoughts in support of the family, and that’s what that’s what I will say, and I don’t think I’ve done anything wrong.”

For a list of statements from other Fort Worth leaders and organizations, click here.

Editors note: This story was updated with additional comments from council member Chris Nettles about the contempt case.

Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at emily.wolf@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Emily WolfGovernment Accountability Reporter

Emily Wolf is a local government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Originally from Round Rock, Texas, she spent several years at the University of Missouri-Columbia majoring in investigative...