The family of the University of North Texas student who was shot and killed by Denton police is speaking out after body camera footage was released to the public.
The family of Darius Tarver joined their civil attorney Lee Merritt for a press conference Friday morning to discuss the death of the 23-year-old.
They acknowledge their son had not been acting himself in the days leading up to the deadly confrontation but say police should have handled the situation differently.
Denton Police Chief Frank Dixon released the videos Thursday afternoon in hopes of quelling rumors about what happened to Darius Tarver outside his Denton apartment in late January.
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But for the young man’s family, the images only solidify their pain.
“I think my son was in a mental crisis and officer did not follow actual protocol that should have been to de-escalate the situation, instead escalated the situation,” said Kevin Tarver.
Police received 911 calls alerting police a man had been smashing lights with a frying pan and banging on doors.
One 911 call came from Tarver’s roommate who told police he’d never seen Tarver act this way describing him as covering windows with blankets, not allowing him to leave their home and appearing to be under the influence of something.
Four police officers responded and surrounded the apartment building.
One neighbor is heard warning police that the man they’re looking for has a ‘large knife’ on him.
Tarver is seen emerging from his home with a frying pan and meat cleaver in hand, mumbling words to God out loud.
An officer is heard telling him ‘We’re going to tase you, man. Put it down now.’
Tarver is tased after not complying with commands but almost immediately begins to swing the meat cleaver toward officers and is shot one time by a six-year veteran on the force.
The family’s civil attorney Lee Merritt is not protesting the first shot fired, but rather what happens after an officer is seen kicking the cleaver away.
Tarver stands back up, is tased a second time, still picks up the frying pan and approaches officers.
He is then shot twice and falls to the ground. Tarver died a short time later.
“If this encounter had ended with him being tased once and shot once, we likely would still have Darius Tarver with us today,” said Merritt. “What brings us here is after that when he had been disarmed from the meat cleaver. When he had already been tased. When he had already been shot. When he was limping forward holding nothing but a flimsy frying pan and deadly force is not justified in that situation.”
Chief Dixon held a press conference where he said he could no longer standby and allow people to disparage his officers, calling them murderers and spreading false information about the shooting.
The chief and city leaders agreed to release the video although the investigation is still ongoing.
“Our officers acted professionally,” said Dixon about the officers involved.
Dixon also spoke to those who would question if a frying pan is really a threat.
“It was being used as an instrument of destruction,” said Dixon. “Whether that’s a baseball bat, a metal pipe or a frying pan it can damage you all the same.”
“They had everything they needed to end this encounter while preserving Darius’ life,” argued Merritt.
Tarver’s mother says she cannot bring herself to see the video for herself.
“It just breaks my heart,” she said. “I’m not going to accept what was done because I know my son.”
What is also painful, Kevin Tarver says, is that the officer who fired all three shots is back on the job pending the investigation.
“We’ll never get to our son again,” he said. “I’ll never get to pick up the phone, I’ll never get to take him fishing, I’ll never get to go to the movies, I’ll never see his children,” he said. “My life is changed forever so how does that make you feel? I feel robbed.”
The Texas Rangers are leading the investigation into the shooting and will turn over their findings to a grand jury.
Toxicology results will go straight to the investigators.
The family demands better training for officers, for the department to release body camera videos sooner and for the officer involved to be held accountable.