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Fort Worth mayor, councilman set to go before judge on contempt of court accusations

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Fort Worth’s mayor and a city councilman are scheduled to attend a contempt of court court hearing Wednesday after they made comments about the Aaron Dean trial.

A jury found Dean guilty of manslaughter on Dec. 15 and sentenced him on Dec. 20 to more than 11 years in prison. The day of the guilty verdict, Councilman Chris Nettles and Mayor Mattie Parker made public statements about the case. Judge George Gallagher ordered Nettles and Parker to attend a contempt of court hearing, which is set to take place Wednesday at noon. Contempt of court can be defined as an act that is disrespectful to the court or an action that obstructs the administration of justice.

Parker’s and Nettles’ offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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Dean, a former Fort Worth police officer, was arrested and charged with murder in October 2019 for fatally shooting Atatiana Jefferson in her home. About two weeks later, Judge David Hagerman implemented a gag order that prohibited lawyers and others directly involved in Dean’s trial from speaking publicly about the case until it was over.

On Dec. 15, after the jury found Dean guilty of manslaughter — but before the jury sentenced him — Nettles released a statement and called the verdict a “slap in the face” to the Black community.

“The verdict says that a white man can murder a Black woman in her own home with nothing more than a slap on the wrist — literally,” Nettles wrote. “I don’t know where we go from here, but I do know that things need to change.”

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Fort Worth City Councilman Chris Nettles gives a statement to the media following the completion of Aaron Dean’s trial on Tuesday, December 20, 2022, at Tarrant County’s 396th District Court at the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center in Fort Worth. Dean was sentenced to 11 years, 10 months and 12 days after being convicted of manslaughter in the 2019 killing of Atatiana Jefferson.

Fort Worth City Councilman Chris Nettles gives a statement to the media following the completion of Aaron Dean’s trial on Tuesday, December 20, 2022, at Tarrant County’s 396th District Court at the Tim Curry Criminal Justice Center in Fort Worth. Dean was sentenced to 11 years, 10 months and 12 days after being convicted of manslaughter in the 2019 killing of Atatiana Jefferson.

In her statement the same day, Parker said the verdict provides “a measure of justice,” but doesn’t change the tragedy that happened to Jefferson and her family.

“This tragedy for me has always been about Atatiana Jefferson,” Parker said in the emailed statement, which she also shared on social media. “About her life as a daughter, sister, and aunt, and her lasting legacy. Many people in our community are hurting, and we must come together with compassion and grace. Our prayers are with the jury as they continue their service in the sentencing phase. May God bless Atatiana’s memory and continue to be with her family.”

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Judges may choose to punish someone held in contempt of court. Contempt of court charges in Texas district courts can carry a fine with a maximum of $500 or jail time for a maximum of six months.

During pretrial hearings, Dean’s attorneys asked Hagerman to hold a contempt of court hearing against Lee Merritt, the Dallas-based attorney representing Jefferson’s family in a civil suit. Merritt spoke with reporters outside a hearing in May, which Dean’s attorneys argued violated the court’s gag order.

Court records do not show any record of Merritt being held in contempt of court. Merritt told the Star-Telegram he’s never been served notice to attend a hearing.

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Gallagher was appointed as the new judge in the case after defense attorneys accused Hagerman of bias against them.

Dean has filed notice with the Second Court of Appeals that he will appeal the guilty verdict.

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