Kevin Tarver

People gather in March 2020 around Kevin Tarver, center, during a demonstration outside the Denton Police Department on East Hickory Street. Tarver, the father of University of North Texas student Darius “DJ” Tarver, who was shot and killed by police Jan. 21, 2020, has filed a federal lawsuit seeking damages for his son’s death.

In a federal lawsuit that names the city of Denton and two police officers, the father of a University of North Texas student killed two years ago by the Denton Police Department is claiming those officers unnecessarily used excessive and deadly force when they shot his son with Tasers and later a handgun.

Kevin Tarver is seeking at least $10 million in damages in the wrongful death of his son, claiming two Denton police officers violated his son’s Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force, according to court records.

The lawsuit comes almost two years after 23-year-old Darius “DJ” Tarver was killed. His roommate called 911 the morning of Jan. 21, 2020, and said Tarver “looked like he was on something,” and another 911 caller told dispatchers a man was breaking light fixtures in the hallway at The Forum apartments on Inman Street.

“We just officially filed, and it’s something we want to take to a jury,” Kevin Tarver said Monday afternoon. “That no-bill doesn’t mean they weren’t guilty. It just means the [district attorney] didn’t present what they needed to present to show it.”

The Denton Police Department referred questions and comments to city officials.

“We are aware that a lawsuit has been filed, but we have not been served with the lawsuit,” Stuart Birdseye, a spokesperson for the city, said Monday in an email. “We do not comment on pending litigation.”

In an encounter with police that lasted about 13 minutes, footage shows Darius Tarver not responding to the officers’ demands to drop what’s in his hands and come downstairs. Tarver repeatedly calls out to God, and police shoot him with stun guns when he doesn’t drop a frying pan.

Kevin Tarver alleges the city of Denton, Texas Rangers and Denton County District Attorney’s Office refused to identify the four officers involved, according to court records. Court records filed days later show summonses for two of the four police officers involved, Michael Hernandez and Doug Downing.

The formal complaint filed by Kevin Tarver alleges the Police Department failed to properly train officers in use of excessive force.

The Denton Police Department released body camera footage of the shooting during a news conference six weeks after Darius Tarver’s death. The body camera footage shows police telling Tarver to drop the frying pan several times.

Kevin Tarver in the complaint says his son went down the stairs slowly as officers yelled at him and didn’t respond to them. He alleges Darius Tarver stood still for 28 seconds with his arms at his side and fully visible, and an officer shot him with a Taser stun gun without warning after those 28 seconds.

Footage released by the department shows police in the beginning of their encounter as they try to get Darius Tarver to come downstairs and drop what he’s holding or risk being shot by their stun guns, but he disappears. six minutes later, he reappears and descends the stairs as officers again tell him to put the frying pan down or they will shoot him with a Taser.

The roommate spoke with one of the four officers and said Darius Tarver had barricaded his bedroom with a dresser and mattress. He and another roommate told the Denton Record-Chronicle the day of his death that Tarver had been in a car crash and was hospitalized shortly before the shooting and hadn’t been acting like himself.

The body camera footage shows Tarver repeatedly calling out to God as police shoot him with a stun gun and a handgun before telling him to stay down. He gets up again, and along with using a stun gun, police shoot him with a handgun at least two more times. About one minute and 20 seconds after Tarver is shot the final time, an officer says he will start first aid.

In the nearly two years since Darius Tarver’s death, Internal Affairs at the Police Department found no wrongdoing in the officers’ actions, a Denton County grand jury declined to indict the officer who shot Tarver, and the FBI found no civil rights violations in how the Police Department handled the shooting.

“It’s time for them to have some accountability for what happened,” Kevin Tarver said Monday. “This suit more or less is bringing accountability on one level, but we’re still going to fight for criminal accountability as well.”

ZAIRA PEREZ can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @zairalperez.

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