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Mayor and council member not charged with contempt of Aaron Dean trial comments

Mayor Matty Parker and District 8 Councilman Chris Nettles were not charged with contempt of court after they apologized behind closed doors to the judge overseeing Aaron Dean’s trial.

Parker and Nettles were subpoenaed after they released statements following Dean’s conviction for manslaughter in violation of a non-disclosure order preventing those involved in the case from speaking publicly about it.

Dean is a former Fort Worth police officer who shot and killed 28-year-old Atatiana Jefferson through his window on October 12, 2019. He was sentenced to almost 12 years in prison for the shooting in the line of duty.

As reporters and community members gathered in the courtroom on January 4, Judge George Gallagher announced that Parker had a scheduling conflict and saw him in his cell on January 3 to apologize.

Nettles also apologized to him in his quarters on Wednesday, Gallagher said. With those apologies in mind, Gallagher told the crowd that he would not take any action against the council members.

“Time to move on,” he said.

It was a non-disclosure order that remained in effect until the end of the verdict. The order, issued on October 25, 2019 by the first judge in charge of the case, was moved from when Parker and Nettles were sworn in as witnesses at the 2021 pre-trial hearing on the request to relocate the venue. He limited pre-trial comments from lawyers and others closely associated with the case.

Gallagher sentenced Nettles and Parker to a pre-trial restraining order after they released separate statements of the verdict, which caught those watching the trial at the courthouse by surprise.

Nettles and Parker’s statements differed in tone; while the District 8 Councilman called the verdict “a slap in the face of black communities in Fort Worth”, Parker took a more conciliatory note and said the verdict “provides a degree of fairness”.

Following the conclusion of the hearing, Nettles stayed behind to make a statement, thanking the community members who came to support him and confirming that he had apologized for his statement.

“I assured (Gallagher) that this was my attempt to just be the voice of our community,” Nettles said. “That is all, and it will never happen again.

Jacqueline Craig was among those who showed up to support Nettles. Craig, who in September settled a lawsuit against the city for excessive use of force during her arrest by a Fort Worth police officer, said Nettles stood by her throughout her case and she wanted to reciprocate.

“I appreciate Chris for being a person who speaks for the community, sticks with the community,” she said.

Parker released a written statement after the hearing.

“As mayor, I felt I had a great responsibility to communicate with the Fort Worth community following the verdict over a tragedy that deeply affected many in our city,” she wrote. “I respect Judge Gallagher’s responsibility to ensure a fair and impartial trial and appreciate that we have reached a resolution on this matter.”

Parker and Nettles weren’t the only ones warned during the trial. Lee Merritt, the lawyer representing Atatiana Jefferson’s family in the civil lawsuit against the city, watched the trial at the courthouse Dec. 5. as a witness.

Dean’s lawyers announced their intention to appeal his case in 2th Court of Appeal.

At Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of board members and financial backers. Read more about our editorial independence policy here. Emily Wolf is a reporter for the Fort Worth Report responsible for government reporting. Contact her at [email protected] or via Twitter.

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