North Texas Daily

Father of Darius Tarver sues city, involved officers for wrongful death

Father of Darius Tarver sues city, involved officers for wrongful death

Father of Darius Tarver sues city, involved officers for wrongful death
February 03
08:00 2022

On Jan. 21, 2020, 23-year-old University of North Texas student Darius Tarver was shot and killed by Denton police officers at his apartment complex. 

Two years later, his father is suing the city and involved officers for wrongful death. Kevin Tarver’s federal lawsuit is seeking at least $10 million in damages. 

“That’s what I’m doing,” Kevin said. “Defending not only my son’s name, his legacy but so many other lives that his life will save because of what he went through.”

Body camera footage released online by the Denton Police Department in March 2020 showed the moments before and after Darius’ death. Kevin was allowed to see it before its later release to the public.

“After going in and actually seeing the video, there was no doubt in my mind they murdered my son,” Kevin said. 

In the video, as Darius walks forward down the stairs, he is hit with a taser twice as he approaches the four officers who responded to the scene. When Darius starts to stand up, he is shot.

“You can clearly see in the video, he comes down, one hand empty, another hand, you can see the frying pan,” Kevin said. “He’s just pointing to the sky saying, ‘his heavenly Father, my only Lord and God, my Savior.’ What threat is that?”

In March 2021, a Denton County grand jury issued a no-bill to an officer involved in Darius’ death, meaning the officer will not be indicted. In April, DPD announced that the officer who fatally shot Darius will not face disciplinary action after an internal investigation determined that department training, procedures and policies in place at the time were followed.

Two months later, the FBI Dallas Division found that no civil rights violations of federal law occurred in the fatal shooting.

The DPD declined to comment on the lawsuit. The city’s official response instead came from Deputy Director of Customer Service and Public Affairs Stuart Birdseye.

“We are aware that the lawsuit has been filed,” Birdseye said in an email to the North Texas Daily. “We do not comment on pending litigation.”

 Days before his death, Darius had been in a car accident which left his car “totally demolished” and him recovering in an intensive care unit with a severe head injury. 

“He was in and out and not really aware of what was going on,” Kevin said. “He didn’t even know what happened.”

After Darius’ release from the hospital, he continued to behave strangely, which prompted a 911 call from his roommate to try to get him help. 

“Three o’clock in the morning, he’s dead,” Kevin said. 

 Since Darius’ death, DPD has implemented new programs to aid officers when they are called to any future mental health crisis. For Kevin, progress has come too late. 

“I’ve heard a couple of stories that since they implemented the new mental crises [programs]. One guy was on top of the roof and about to commit suicide,” Kevin said. “And they talk to him for five hours. They gave my son 28 seconds.”

Some UNT students share the same sentiments as Kevin and hope change is ahead when it comes to law enforcement’s treatment of mental health. 

“Mental health should not be met with gun violence,” education graduate student Hannah Ottinger said. 

The DJT Justice Network, a non-profit organization named after Darius, has a website and Facebook page run by Kevin to supply information on mental health crises and educate people on policy reform issues. 

The organization also recently held a memorial for Darius at the Denton Courthouse on Jan. 21, 2022, marking the second anniversary of his death. 

“Darius Tarver’s father asked me to come and speak out,” said Jermaine Turner, Black Student Union president and integrative studies junior. “Remembering his death, where we could be headed for it.”

Turner hopes future accountability from the lawsuit will prevent a situation like Darius’ from happening to any other students.

“I definitely agree with the lawsuit,” Turner said. “I think that it should happen. I know from my understanding it’s almost a class action lawsuit where it’s not just Darius’ story, but so many other Black and brown people’s story across the state, and more specifically in the Denton area.”

While the lawsuit against the city is for his son’s death, Kevin also wants justice for how the police department handled everything after Darius died, stating the department did not notify him immediately after Darius’ death. 

“I found out about 11 a.m. that morning,” Kevin said. “They had already shipped his body to Fort Worth somewhere. We hadn’t even been notified of anything. It was already on the news and everything else and the family wasn’t notified.”

Kevin said months later he was also not notified when the footage of his son’s death was made public, claiming he only found out when reporters began to call him. 

“It was all of a sudden,” Kevin said. “All the media started calling me and saying, ‘Did you get the message that they were going to release the thing?’ No.”

Through suing the city, Kevin hopes that it will change the police department’s methods for the better.

“There’s other incidents where they have improperly used their tasers and other things,” Kevin said. “It’s time for them to get it right.”

Courtesy Kevin Tarver

darius tarver lawsuit

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Alex Reece

Alex Reece

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