Say their names. 

Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old carrying a toy gun was shot by police in Ohio. 

Eric Garner, 43, died after police in Staten Island put him in a choke-hold. 

Philando Castile, 32, was killed by police during a traffic stop in Minnesota. 

Protesters marching across the country over the recent killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man in Minneapolis, shout out names of other people of color who are also victims of shootings and violence at the hands of police. 

Breonna Taylor, 26, was shot by police in Louisville, Kentucky, while executing a search warrant on the wrong house.

Botham Jean, a 26-year-old accountant, was shot in his home by an off-duty Dallas police officer who said she mistook his apartment for her own.

Atatiana Jefferson, 28, was shot by police in her Fort Worth home while playing video games with her nephew.

North of Dallas in Denton, another name is being shouted louder than ever as protests against police shootings continue across the nation amid calls for demilitarization of police and reforming departments.  

Darius “DJ” Tarver, a 23-year-old black criminal justice major at the University of North Texas, dreamed of working in law enforcement. Then he was shot and killed by Denton police in January.

Police have said he failed to follow commands to drop a frying pan and advanced toward them after being tased. Tarver’s father, Kevin, claims his son was experiencing a mental health issue and unable to respond to officers’ demands.

Almost five months later, the officer who shot him still works on the force and no charges have been filed, the family says. 

In response, The Justice for Darius Tarver petition was started demanding the Denton County District Attorney file criminal charges against the officer who killed Tarver. They’re also requesting the U.S. Department of Justice to intervene in the investigation of the case. More than 140,000 signatures as of Monday have been collected on change.org. The petition’s goal is 150,000.

The petition was started just a little over week ago as calls to the DA’s office went unanswered, due possibly to the COVID-19 shutdown. Family and activists began listing the phone number online, urging citizens to call District Attorney Paul Johnson and demand justice.

“We are requesting the Denton County DA Paul Johnson to file criminal charges due to us forcing the release of the body-cam video revealing the truth of what really happened and not the first fabricated story or narrated version told by Denton Police Chief Dixon,” the petitioners wrote.

Officials have said the Texas Rangers, not the Denton police, were leading the investigation. They presented evidence to the DA’s office in late February on its way to the grand jury.

Tarver’s father Kevin is a pastor and chaplain for the McKinney Police Department where he also serves on the police chief’s advisory council. He says it’s time that justice be served in the death of his son.

“The Texas Rangers nor the Denton Police Department has or will do a(n) unbiased investigation,” Tarver says. “So we prefer the Department of Justice to come in and take over at this point.”

He fears that D.A. Johnson won’t recommend indictment and his son’s case “will be like any other case swept under the rug with a no bill.”

Efforts were made to reach out to Lee Merritt, the Tarver family’s attorney, but no response was received by the time of this publication. When Merritt spoke at the Hungry for Change rally in Plano on Sunday, he called for sweeping police reforms in the handling of mental crises.

Tarver has been looking for ways to bring justice for his son Darius. Most recently he attended and spoke at George Floyd protests in Denton, where participants also took a knee for his son. 

It wasn’t the first protest he’s attended for his son. 

Several months ago, Tarver participated in a protest in front of the Denton police station demanding that police release the body cam footage of the shooting. UNT students and citizens held a sit-in at city hall. Deborah “Deb” Armintor, a Denton council member who called for a police citizens review board last year, and continues to call for justice in the case.

The footage was finally released to the public in March, more than a month after the shooting. But the family struck back, saying the footage tells a different story than the official narrative: a lack of mental health training among officers who needlessly killed their son.

Denton Police Chief Frank Dixon defended his officers during a press conference in early March, saying they acted professionally and appropriately.

Tarver argues that his son’s mental state probably prevented him from hearing, understanding, or responding to police orders on the night of the shooting. They added that police did not try to de-escalate the situation. 

Annette Nevins

Annette Bernhard Nevins is a Plano-based, award-winning journalist who specializes in breaking news and features. She has held staff positions at several Texas newspapers, including The Dallas Morning...