Darius Tarver Case – February 3, 2021, 8 pm Eastern

Transcript: The Case of Darius Tarver

NOTE: The initial hearing on the case of Darius Tarver was conducted by the International Commission of Inquiry on Systemic Racist Police Violence against People of African Descent in the United States on Wednesday, February 3, 2021. Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, the hearing was not recorded. Testimony was provided by Mr. Kevin Tarver, the father of Darius Tarver, and by Mr. Lee Merritt, attorney for the Tarver family. Rapporteur, Prof. Marjorie Cohn conducted the hearing, which was joined by Commissioners Arturo Fournier Facio and Prof. Osamu Niikura. In order to complete the public record of the Commission, Mr. Merritt and Mr. Tarver recorded their statements to the Commission on February 5, 2021.

SPEAKERS

  • Mr. Kevin Tarver, the father of Darius Tarver
  • Mr. Lee Merritt, attorney for the Tarver family.

Lee MerrittĀ  00:40

My name is Stacy Sylvester Lee Merritt. I am a civil rights attorney with a practice based out of Philadelphia and New Jersey, although I represent families of police violence throughout the United States. The case that we’re going to be discussing with you today is the case of a young man, a 23 year old student at the University of northern Texas named Darius Tarver. He was a criminal justice major, who had to obtain enough credits actually to graduate and so you will find you will find conferred posthumously, a degree in the area of criminal justice from the University of Northern Texas. For Mr. Darius Tarver we will be discussing not only the unfortunate but the completely avoidable, unforeseeable events that led to his demise, and how it relates to a bigger issue of systemic violence directed at the Black community and a particularly vulnerable sub sector of that community. Black and suffering from an invisible crisis, a mental health crisis, that although often may have no physical signs, there in terms of markings on the body, it is it is a health crisis, like any other crisis, that is, that is demonstratable and observable to a well trained observer.

We have argued, in this case, in the case of Mr. Darius Tarver, and in the case of far too many others, including Everett Palmer, Patrick Warren Sr., Damien Daniels, Steven Taylor, and a plethora of other cases that that has been submitted to this council, that there is an a heightened sub sector within the community of individuals facing unjustifiable and disproportionate police violence in the United States. And that is those suffering from mental health crisis. Although Mr. Tarver did not have a prolonged diagnosis. In other words, he was not someone who struggled with mental health conditions his entire life. A week before this fateful encounter with law enforcement, he was involved in a collision, very serious collision that caused his car to roll. That, his father will tell you more about, but the important thing was that he was hospitalized in the intensive care unit and released from the from the ICU, in a very short period of time still suffering from injuries related to that collision, particularly a severe injury to his face, and head, which which caused internal damage to his brain that had manifestations like sensitivity to light and noise and sound. And often bizarre and erratic behavior extreme mood swings, that that contributed to the encounter with Denton PD that night.

On January 21, of 2020, Darius Tarver was home at his apartment complex, with his roommate. He had used barricades or the bed sheets and bedspreads or the mattress to cover his door to keep out light. Because of his extreme sensitivity to light. He had spoken to his his roommate in a way that spoke to him because he, he seemed to be muttering and not completely, comprehensibly, making religious references and seem to be in a in an excited state. He was also, this and other factors led his roommate to believe that this was an urgent situation, and one that caused him fear. He left the apartment and called law enforcement and it’s described to them in detail his symptoms. Those details that he made on that call are critically important because in evaluating law enforcement behavior, you must consider the totality of the circumstances, everything that they knew at the time that they had an encounter with Darius Tarver. And so the initial call from the roommate and there were other calls made that we will describe, confirm that this young man was a resident, that he was a college student, that he was behaving not like himself that this was not common for him to be out of it in this way, and that he was non violent, but it appeared that he needed help.

With, armed with that information and an additional call from other neighbors, at least one other resident of the apartment complex reported a man in the hallway, who seemed to be focused on the lights that actually removed or used the frying pan to knock out some of the light fixtures in the hallway, consistent with Mr. Tarver’s sensitivity to light and he who began to pound on some of the doors, causing the occupants of the other residents in that apartment complex, some concern. They made additional calls to law enforcement. Law enforcement responded with a tactical team of four well trained officers according to the standards within the Denton police department. Of course, I hesitate to qualify them as well trained. But that is the characterization given by the police chief and the city’s mayor. After this incident, three of these officers were veteran officers and one was undergoing training. The shooting or lead officer was Downing Douglas and the three other officers involved with this were Spivey, Pettaway and Hernandez. But these four officers responded to the scene, encountered Mr. Tarver on the second floor of his apartment complex and waited for him to descend the stairs as he slowly and methodically descended the stairs. In a video that I’ll play shortly after, I describe to you what you will see in the video. Law enforcement began to make observations about this person, that he had a frying pan in his hand, that he seemed to have some other weapon like a kitchen knife in his back pocket. They make the observation of upon seeing the kitchen knife that they had lethal. We believe that to mean according to customs and practices with not only within not only the Denton police department but throughout Texas and much of the country is that the officers were making the observation that they have the authority to use lethal force, because Mr. Tarver had on his possession weapon that they believed could cause lethal harm to themselves or others.

As he descended the flat of the stairs and reached the base, Mr. Tarver stood relatively still, pointing up at the sky, continuing mutterings, mutterings or statements about God being his shield his protection, crying out to Father God, Father God repeatedly, but not making any advancement and not speaking in a real loud or aggressive voice. There was no indication that he intended to be aggressive or to escalate the situation other than the color of his skin. And you know, the presence that he was clearly out of it, we would hope that well trained officers at this moment would recognize that this is someone that is in mental health crisis, and according to their training, take time, distance and cover, in order to gain a better understanding of what was going on, and safely get Mr. Tarver in custody so that he could receive treatment for what was an apparent mental health crisis. Instead, the officers began shouting commands at Mr Tarver to drop his weapons. Any mental health expert, or any officer who has received the minimal 40 hours of training within the PD will tell you that that training will remind them that individuals suffering from a mental health crisis don’t respond positively generally, to verbal commands, particularly when they come in the form of aggressive shouting, and threats, followed by threats of use of force. However, with that being clearly established is not the appropriate procedures and protocols for dealing with someone in this crisis. That is what Darius Tarver received, violent threats, shouts from the surrounding officers, and with little time to respond, he was tased. This tase agitated Mr. Tarver’s already state of crisis and he fell forward. Sort of, apparently out of control in the video. He dropped the pan.

He was still standing and was shot a second a second time the first shot being a taser shot which produces 50,000 volts of electricity if used effectively, and then he was shot in what we believe to be in the torso, which caused him to go to the ground and lose control of all weapons that were previously in his possession. There was no more weapons on this person, law enforcement were able to locate and remove from the seeing what they believe to be the lethal weapon, the kitchen knife, the pot fell to the, fell to the ground, some distance away. Mr Tarver in this state was allowed to stand up again, as opposed to being surrounded and taken into the custody of one, or by one or all of the four officers who were then surrounding him. Instead of making the move to get Mr Tarver at that point to safety, or to get to get some treatment for the gun wound that he was cradling to his abdomen, he was allowed to recover, to limp over to a pan. Due to the weakness of the 50,000 volts of electricity from the taser and the bullet wound to his stomach, Mr. Tarver no longer have the strength to lift that pan at all, the pan never reached a distance above his kneecap. And as he limped forward, the officers again shouted ineffective commands, and then fired their weapon two more times striking Mr Tarver and body center mass and taking him to the ground. The officers checked on each other at a time when they should have been checking on, on the well being of Darius Tarver. And the delayed getting him the treatment that he would need to recover. And as a result of their poor training, their propensity towards violence and the disregard for his physical safety after the fact. He perished from his wounds. I will show I will ask that you start the video that summarizes what what I’ve just described in the next voice that you’ll hear from his his father, Kevin Tarver.

[Video of the shooting of Darius Tarver]

Kevin TarverĀ  14:49

Before I get into the video and everything else, I just want to first speak on his character because that that comes to play this is there’s like attorney Merritt was saying, you know, he’s a 23 year old criminal justice major. He was on the Dean’s list. He actually didn’t, he achieved his second degree, even though he didn’t get an opportunity to see it. But he was the the week prior, he was actually in a car accident, a rollover car accident, where he was found non responsive at the scene. And they had to cut him out the car and, and they had an emergency and then that night, they ended up having to put him in ICU trauma. Because all the damage, all the injuries were to his face and head. And I got the call that morning. And, and headed out out there to check on him. And that was on a Saturday. And, you know, they was keeping him sedated. And he was in and out and, you know, not totally himself. And, you know, because he was in ICU trauma we couldn’t stay in. So we, you know, it was late and tired, went home. And he did, a nurse called me that night from a strange number and said, somebody wants to speak to you. And he said, Hey, Dad, you know, where y’all that, you know, so he was, you know, he was certain didn’t want to be by himself. And, and from that point, you know, we’re gonna go back, you know, one of his first cousins went to school with him, he went up and stayed with him. And that morning, I was going back to check on him, that was about 11 or 12, and the hospital had already released him from ICU trauma straight from the hospital, walked out the hospital, no observation or anything like that. So, you know, he stayed with his mom all that weekend. And I visited him Friday and checked on him and tried to make sure he was well, and then taking the seat of car and you know, and we did that. It was no way he should have survived the car accident and just told him you know, you need to give it all to God. And, and thing is that, that that Sunday, he actually totally surrendered and committed himself to Christ, and he’s brought up in the church, all his life. I’m a pastor, my father’s a pastor, as well, I am part of city McKinney, Chief of Police Advisory Council, and liaison between the citizens and the police department as well as police chaplain and peer support.

So, you know, His goal was to go into law enforcement, he was already been recruiting, you know, he had a plan, and he was trying to achieve it. But that Monday, he had, you know, he’s back at school and, and, and next thing I know, you know, three o’clock in the morning, he’s dead, he’s gone. And as you watch the video, you know, and Mr., attorney Merritt, already addressed a lot of the things that that went on within the video, but the thing is, is that these were supposed to be well trained officers. And by you know, and I’m trained in different areas. And one of the things there’s a acronym that if you have well training, so you don’t forget these things called ALGE. The first thing you do is assess, assess the situation for risk or whatever is going on, and then you listen, you know, non judgmentally. And then the next thing is you give reassurance and, and ask questions and, and encourage, and then the net last thing to encourage self help, whatever, that let them know that they were there to help him and stuff, none of this took place. And if they’re well trained, you know, by the Texas peace officers, one of the things is, is officers should always approach and interact with people who may be in a mental health crisis with a calm and non threatening manner. And while also protecting their safety and the safety of others there, involved and at this point, they just wanted command, they just wanted control. They didn’t take time to to talk to Darius.

But in all interviews, the chief said that they were trained, they reached out they tried to have conversation, let them know that they were there to help him all these things they say it so they knew what they should have done. But none of that took place in and as attorney Merritt had said, you know there’s different things, when there’s things that you should not do anytime there’s a potential person in a mental crisis. And that’s, you shouldn’t move suddenly you shouldn’t give rapid orders, you shouldn’t shout, you shouldn’t force discussion, and you shouldn’t touch the person. You shouldn’t crowd the person. They were right in his face. If you go to the crime scene, you know, they didn’t really give me the distance because they were within three feet of him, you know it, you know, when you go there and see from where they’re standing, you shouldn’t express anger or impatience or irritation, they did everything that you was not supposed to do. But the things that you should do, you should remain calm and avoid overreacting. None of that took place, no de-escalation, there wasn’t an attempt to save his life, there was an attempt, you know, to actually even understand what was going on.

It was just, you know, when two of the biggest problems in law enforcement is implicit bias, and mental health crisis, implicit bias by my son being a minority, his likelihood of being killed, went up even more, because it’s already 16 times more likely for a person with mental illness, but it’s three times as much for a Black male to actually deal with the use of force in this mental crisis. So the thing is, with implicit bias, and additionally in a mental crisis, it’s like, they arrived there to issue a death sentence, you know, and the officers, you know, after doing some research and, and listening to the chief and, and going back way back to October, he was already saying that his officers needed more training. And that, you know, and it showed, you know, they’re supposed to be trained to deal with these situations, but there was no training based on what Texas police officers training and guidelines says, and not even what their protocol and guidelines says within the Denton PD.

So, you know, they had the opportunity to arrest him, they said, he came down the stairs, he advanced on the officers. They even said he stabbed an officer, you know, this is what they gave to the media. And then they said that, uh, you know, that, that then they he came down, he advanced, they tased him, he went down and really got up, they tased, but again, it didn’t, he went full charge, trying to stab an officer, that’s when officers shot three rounds striking once. And then I find out what his body is at the, at the funeral home that he had been shot three times. And then it was clarified, once we get to autopsy. So, you know, the thing is, there’s been nothing but lies and, and the lack of transparency. And we had to even force them to allow us to see the video before this, any of this stuff took place. You know when, and if you look at him, he wasn’t in any — there was no immediate danger of anyone, there was no one else there but him and the officers.

And as he walked down the stairways, and he paused well, before you even walk down, he said, my Heavenly Father is my only God, the only God, the only lord and savior. And then when he gets there, he’s just saying, my Heavenly Father, my Heavenly Father, the only God, my Heavenly Father, this is considered to be a threat, my son is crying out to God. And that was a threat. And if you listen closely, you hear the female officer talking to the roommate trying to get him back trying to get you know, the the reason or what was going on with him and stuff like that, but they were impatient, because they didn’t have control of the situation. It wasn’t about trying to protect my son’s life, about trying to save their life. They wasn’t in any imminent danger nor threat. But they escalated the situation, they did not de-escalate the situation. And because of their actions, they killed my son, and they have not owned up to it. And even after he was down on the ground, and you know, the Heavenly Father was my shield, they allowed him to get up, like attorney Merritt said and, and, and he was so feeble, they could have pushed him over. You have full well trained officers. That’s not in any type of training. And I’ve never seen that, that’s the way that you handle that situation. So you know, when they allowed him to get up, instead of arresting him, all the officers go to their respective places, and leave my child, my son, Darius Tarver, leave him open for the same officer to shoot him two more times. And that was not a lethal threat. The pan was never raised.

But you know, with Chief Dixon, the head of Dayton PD, he lied and said he raised the pain and tried to attack two officers. And that wasn’t true. He lied and said that they tried to arrest him and he resisted arrest. They didn’t even make an attempt to even put cuffs on him. You know, and it’s just so many lies after lies after lies and, and my son is dead because of the due diligence to try to save a life. They would rather take a life and that’s what they did. And you know, it’s just not what you can say because they follow you know, no, no true training that that I’ve seen, you know, and one of my duties with the Advisory Council. We review and look at videos we we look at policy, procedures, and we try to see what’s good and how things should be handled, we look at things while other departments do it. And even now, my son’s, he said, you know, the the chief, after he released it, he said that, you know, it was admirable what they did, you know, and then he even lashed out at the family and, and, you know, when the officers pretty much went right back to work, you know, not too long after, before the investigation is even completed.

You know, it’s just so many things that has happened that that are not right, and is not justice. And this right here is just out of control that you can have so much power just to deny people life just because that’s the way you feel. And this is this has caused my son’s death, and it’s caused my family, a lot of pain, and a lot of hurt, and, you know, it’s changed our lives forever. And, you know, we’re just standing and, and, and believing in faith, you know, that, that something good comes out of it, because, you know, my son cried out to God and he was assassinated for it. So it is painful to deal with the situation. But you know, we have to go through it because these officers need to be held accountable, because it endangers others lives that are out there that may go through a mental crisis, or may go through some type of disorder, that they don’t care to look at the situation and analyze the situation or assess it. They just want control. And if you don’t do what they say, then they have the authority to basically take your life and that’s not the type of training and not the type of law enforcement that I’m used to. That even I know that it’s not legal. So, you know, my son is gone. But other departments are even now are using this video to show officers how not to deal with a mental crisis situation, but that’s what the chief there says, they did an admirable job. So, you know, there’s a problem if that’s admirable and that’s the way that that department works. By taking the life and not trying to save it, you know, this definitely shows the reason that we have to have reform.

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