Family of UNT Student Shot and Killed by Denton Police Vow to Fight for Reform, Accountability

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The Denton police officers involved in the shooting death of University of North Texas student Darius Tarver in early 2020 will not face any disciplinary action, the department announced Thursday.

An internal investigation found the officers did not violate department protocols or training procedures during the deadly encounter.

A grand jury recently decided not to charge the officer who shot and killed the 23-year-old.

The student’s family disagrees with the recent findings and says their tragedy only highlights flaws in police training, particularly when identifying people suffering a mental health crisis.

It is a decision Tarver’s father saw coming.

However, Kevin Tarver says their fight for police reforms and accountability within the Denton Police Department is far from over.

“We’re going to continue to fight because my son was murdered,” he said. “It wasn’t just a tragedy. He shouldn’t just be a hashtag and there needs to be changes in Denton.”

The four officers’ body cameras captured the deadly encounter at an apartment complex where Tarver lived.

Residents called police after Tarver reportedly began banging on doors and breaking lights with a frying pan.

One caller told police the man was armed with a large knife.

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.

Tarver is seen emerging from his home with a frying pan and meat cleaver in hand, mumbling words out loud, which later were revealed to be prayers.

An officer repeatedly told the suspect, ‘We’re going to tase you, man. Put it down now.’

Tarver was tased after not complying with commands but almost immediately started to swing the meat cleaver toward officers and was shot one time by a six-year veteran on the force.

The family’s civil attorney Lee Merritt did not protest the first shot fired, but rather what happens after an officer is seen kicking the cleaver away.

Tarver stood back up, was tased a second time, still picked up the frying pan and approached officers.

He was then shot twice by the same officer and fell to the ground. Tarver died a short time later.

From the beginning of the case, Tarver’s family said their son was suffering a mental health crisis, possibly brought on by a recent car crash he was involved in that left him with damage to his brain.

His father is still a chaplain for the McKinney Police Department.

“I’m very supportive of law enforcement but what happened to my son, that wasn’t normal protocol, wasn’t normal procedure. And it’s something that shouldn’t happen to anyone,” he said on Thursday.

This case joins a slew of high-profile police shootings captured on cell phone and body camera video, particularly involving people of color, that Alex Del Carmen, associate dean and professor of Criminology at Tarleton State University cautions the public not to generalize.

On Friday, there were one million law enforcement officers on the streets in the U.S., said Del Carmen.

“When you watch the behavior of one officer, it doesn’t mean that the rest of the officers are going to engage in that behavior,” he said.

One aspect of policing Del Carmen has been sounding the alarm on is an anticipated rise in mental health calls, due in large part to the COVID-19 pandemic, at a time when not all officers are trained or certified to determine individuals in mental distress.

“It’s very difficult for police officers to be able to identify and diagnose an individual in a matter of seconds,” said Del Carmen.

Asked if all police officers should be required to undergo mental health training, Del Carmen quickly responded: Unquestionably. And I think that it is a different type of training than the training we have been giving them. In the sense that there is a COVID-related era that’s going to be arising.”

NBC 5 reached out to the Denton police chief and mayor for an interview or statement.

The police department referred NBC 5 back to the statement DPD made on Thursday stating:

‘This decision does not minimize the tragic events of that night, which resulted in the death of Darius Tarver.’

The mayor did not return NBC 5’s request for comment.

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