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Police dashcam video was released shortly after McMillan was shot. Courtesy Denton Record-Chronicle.

Just hours after the slaying, UNT President Neal Smatresk tweeted to students and staff members that one of their UNT police officers “fatally shot a suspect after responding to reports of a person knocking out car windows near the intersection of Oak and Fry streets.”

Smatresk named neither the shooter nor the “suspect” in his tweet, although he did acknowledge that the shooting victim was, in fact, a UNT student.

Hoping to elicit more about the shooting from the tweeting educator in mid-January, I submitted a short list of questions to him, inquiring about such issues as what steps the university might be contemplating to ensure that students will be safe from future shootings — particularly by members of its own police force. He did not respond to any of my questions. Nor would he submit to a live interview. It was not until seven weeks after the McMillan shooting that the college official, who has never reached out personally to either of the dead student’s parents, say the parents, finally broke his silence about the incident. In an interview with the North Texas Daily student newspaper, Smatresk seemed to place the blame for Ryan McMillan’s death not on Stephen Bean or on McMillan himself but rather on the dead student’s friends.

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“It is sad,” Smatresk told student reporter Dalton LaFerney, “that the people that were around the student didn’t help him to manage what was clearly an acute episode.”

Smatresk admitted that UNT has no program in place for addressing the issue of campus binge drinking, of which the Ryan McMillan episode provides the worst-case scenario, or for educating students and members of the surrounding community on ways to constructively intervene when a student becomes dangerously intoxicated.

Asked by LaFerney how the university might address the problem in the future, UNT’s president confessed that he hasn’t a clue.

“I’m open to suggestions,” he replied. “If someone can say, ‘Here’s really what we need to do to mitigate this,’ I’m all in.”

My efforts to interview UNT Police Chief Ed Reynolds about the McMillan shooting also have been rebuffed. To date, the only information about the shooting that the department has ever released to the public is that, immediately after the incident, Bean was placed on desk duty until the official investigation into the shooting had been completed by the Texas Rangers.

But what about McMillan’s fellow students? In late February, Kelsy Fryman, administrator of a UNT student group that calls itself the Denton Coalition Against Police Brutality, was quoted by a North Texas Daily reporter as saying that “21-year-olds acting dumb don’t deserve to be shot in the street.”

Ian Campbell, another coalition member, said he would like to see UNT’s police training “much more rigorously focused on de-escalation.”

Other than these two statements, however, the campus has remained almost eerily silent on the issue. Students have held no protest rallies. Nor has anyone demanded Stephen Bean’s firing. To most UNT students, it appears, the death of a fellow scholar at the hands of a campus cop is merely another routine day in the shooting gallery called America.

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In the Lone Star State, the once-legendary Texas Rangers, who have been around longer than the state itself, are often called upon to investigate officer-involved shootings. Around 1:30 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 13, in Denton, “a man wearing a white cowboy hat, a white dress shirt and a badge hopped out of his dark Chevy pickup parked in the Christian Campus Center parking lot and stepped foot onto the crime scene,” reported the North Texas Daily. The man in the white hat was Clair Barnes, head of the Texas Rangers’ Denton office. He had come to the intersection of Fry and Oak streets to investigate the shooting that had taken place there just one hour earlier.

A few days later, Barnes summoned to his office two of the civilian eyewitnesses he had learned about from uniformed officers at the scene. One of them was Alexzia Jaramillo, the young woman who had witnessed the shooting and then recorded a video of the crime scene with her cellphone camera. The 90 minutes she spent with Barnes in an interview room, she later told me, seemed not so much an interrogation as an attempt by the veteran lawman to suggest to her what she had seen.

“He tried to intimidate me,” Jaramillo recalls having felt, “and he tried to get me on his side, telling me the officer was justified in shooting Ryan and how the police officer feared for his life and that [McMillan] came at the officer with an ax.”

In the tape-recorded conversation that Jaramillo later described to me in detail, she tells Barnes that she and boyfriend Gutierrez “didn’t see that happen.”

Based on what she saw, Jaramillo still believes the shooting was “unjustified.”

Barnes, Jaramillo recalls, then turned his attention to her cellphone video. After watching it, Jaramillo remembers, he made an official copy with her permission. However, when Jaramillo told Barnes she planned to show the video to Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe of the Denton Record-Chronicle and to submit to an interview with the reporter, Jaramillo recalls, he warned her not to go through with it.

“He said, ‘If I were you, I wouldn’t interview with her — or with anybody [else] that asks questions.’ ”

Barnes, Jaramillo recalls, explained to her that his inquiry into McMillan’s death was “confidential, and it was still an ongoing investigation.”

He urged her to remain silent, she says, “basically, so I didn’t hurt his investigation.”

Convinced by the Texas Ranger that she would, at the very least, be acting in bad faith, and perhaps unlawfully, by publicly revealing what she knew, Jaramillo canceled her interview with Heinkel-Wolfe, a decision that Jaramillo has since has come to “regret,” though she has spoken with me at length.

When I contacted the Texas Rangers to give Barnes a chance to respond to Jaramillo’s take on the interview, the agency’s official spokesman, Sgt. Lonny Haschel, informed me that the Rangers cannot speak to the press about a case involving “potential pending litigation.” He was referring to the possible lawsuit by Ryan McMillan’s parents.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. You asked the UNT president what the university might do to ensure students will be safe from future shootings by law officers? Only a hack journalist would ask such a question.

    A college student should know that if you’re wielding a weapon and approaching a law officer, and he tells you to stop, that the safest thing to do is to stop. UNT doesn’t need to put on a seminar about it.

  2. The cop and the kid both made a fatal mistake and it is a tragedy for the kid & the cop, parents, school, loved ones ……a heart-wrenching tragedy, that was undeserved by the cop or young man or the school or town. It is a heart wrenching tragedy, that’s it, nothing more, enough said. Stuff happens, the kid was an unlucky kid, the cop was an unlucky cop, the college and who knows who else are shattered and in morning,makes a normal man want to weap and hug his kids. You are a rat and a mullet Johnie boy and you are a lay-about, snot-rag, piss-ant with no value to this sweet country or humanity. The old devil has a death-grip on your stinking ass, and so it goes. You are on our government’s time downtown at our Fort Worth Couhouse while you torment this poor community. May God forgive you, I’m not that good of a guy. I maintain that black-hearted, Government snot-rags should do their work and shut their asinine yapper. I’m praying for you.

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