An open letter to the Denton city manager and chief of police:
In my two years on the Denton City Council, it has been an honor to work alongside you as we strive to foster a culture of greater transparency and deference to the public we serve. It’s for the sake of those shared public values, which form both the theme and the request of this open letter, that I’ve decided not only to email you individually but to share it publicly as well.
As you know, the Denton community remains shaken by the Jan. 21 death of 23-year-old University of North Texas criminal justice major Darius Tarver. Police, summoned to his apartment building by a 911 call, arrived to find him knocking out hallway lights with a frying pan. A beloved son, friend and model citizen with no prior record, Darius had recently suffered a collision that left him behaving erratically and unprecedentedly sensitive to light after an abbreviated overnight hospital stay. I don’t know what happened next, but by all accounts it ended with Darius getting Tased and fatally shot. I know that his loss affects you and your staff deeply, not only in your official capacity but also as parents and community members.
As a fellow parent and community member, and as your colleague in open governance, I’m writing to express my support of the recent request made by Darius’ father, Kevin Tarver, for the prompt public release of the unedited body camera footage, which he was recently privately shown (http://bit.ly/38Efvpj). He says it doesn’t show his son armed with a meat cleaver, as reported. He says it shows his son being attacked, not attacking. He wants the bodycam footage released immediately so the public can see for themselves.
I understand that both the internal use-of-force investigation and the external criminal investigation are still ongoing and incomplete, and that for the sake of fairness and due process, justice shouldn’t be rushed. But as the Fort Worth Police Department has recently demonstrated in response to its own fatal shootings, transparency, unlike justice, doesn’t have to wait; it can happen almost immediately. Within just one to four days, the Fort Worth police chief chose to publicly release the bodycam footage of the deaths of:
Jaquavion Slaton, fatally shot by Fort Worth PD on Sunday, June 9, 2019. Bodycam footage released by Fort Worth PD four days later on Thursday, June 13: http://bit.ly/38A66PI
Amari Malone, fatally shot by Fort Worth PD on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019. Bodycam footage released by Fort Worth PD Thursday, Aug. 22: http://bit.ly/2SEzmiK
Atatiana Jefferson, fatally shot by Fort Worth PD on Oct. 12, 2019. Bodycam footage released by Fort Worth PD that same day, in less than eight hours: http://bit.ly/2wsZ4hE
I want to close with the words of another grieving parent, Cheryl Adams, the mother of Kristopher Adams, who was fatally shot from behind by a Denton County sheriff’s deputy in Sanger on Sept. 16, 2019. Cheryl reached out to the Denton City Council on the heels of Sheriff Tracy Murphree’s controversial decision to have the city of Denton PD, in lieu of the Texas Rangers, conduct the third-party review of the county’s internal investigation. On the off chance that the city of Denton might be in a position to help her get transparency from another jurisdiction, she wrote:
I am begging to see the bodycam video so I can finally have closure. I can’t function on a daily basis. I cry every day. I can’t think of anything but my son and wonder every day what happened to him. He was shot in the back. He didn’t have a gun. And he deserves justice just like anyone else would. Please find it in your hearts as parents and grandparents to grant my request and release the bodycam video.
I was devastated to find myself so powerless to help her.
This past Sunday, Feb. 16, marked the five-month anniversary of the death of Cheryl’s son, Kristopher. This coming Friday, Feb. 21, it will have been exactly one month since the shooting of Kevin Tarver’s son Darius. Both bodycam videos remain unreleased, and both parents and the public await the transparency that, if recent bodycam releases by Fort Worth PD are any indication, could presently be at the discretion of city and county law enforcement administrators, respectively, to give.