Warning: this video is graphic.
In 2016, Tony Timpa, a Dallas citizen, called 911 on the night of Aug. 10, saying he was mentally ill, afraid and in need of help.
When police arrived, he was unarmed and handcuffed by two private security guards. Within 20 minutes he was dead. Following a three-year battle to release body cam records of the incident, a video was obtained by The Dallas Morning News. It was released as part of a lawsuit filed by Timpa’s family in federal court alleging excessive force.
The video showed Timpa rolling around the grass in a state of panic, repeatedly screaming “You’re gonna kill me!” while officers tried to subdue him.
Eventually, officers replaced Timpa’s handcuffs, zip-tied his legs together and pinned him to the ground. Officer Dustin Dillard then placed his knee in the small of Timpa’s back for more than 13 minutes. By the time paramedics arrived, Timpa had “suffocated.”
Throughout the video, three officers–Dillard, Danny Vasquez, and Kevin Mansell–can be heard joking about Timpa as he loses consciousness, saying things like: “I don’t want to go to school! Five more minutes mom!”
They also made jokes regarding his income bracket and his mental health issues.
All three of these officers were indicted by a grand jury in 2017 of misdemeanor deadly conduct. The grand jury’s indictment stated that “officers engaged in reckless conduct that placed Timpa in imminent danger of serious bodily injury.”
In March, however, Dallas Count District Attorney John Creuzot dismissed these charges. He said that “all three medical examiners” who had testified to the grand jury told him that they “cannot, and will not, testify to the elements of the indictment beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Prior to this video’s release, police claimed that they only used the force necessary to restrain Timpa from rolling into traffic. The video appears to show that a police car is blocking traffic near where Timpa is pinned down.
In a newly obtained affidavit, a medical first responder claimed he “was unable to assess the patient due to his combativeness.”
In the video, medical responders appeared to take Timpa’s blood pressure. About five minutes later, they administered a sedative, at which point officers were already verbalizing concerns that he wasn’t awake. As Timpa was lifted into an ambulance, one of the officers can be heard asking “He didn’t just die down there, did he?”
An autopsy later determined that Timpa’s was a homicide via cardiac death caused by “the toxic effects of cocaine and the stress associated with physical restraint.”
The Dallas Morning News also reported that internal investigations by the police department, which saw Dillard, Mansell, and Vasquez placed on administrative leave, concluded months before the officers were indicted.
According to Eric Heipt, a Seattle lawyer who specializes in in-custody deaths, the officers in the video should have known that they were putting Timpa at risk for asphyxiation.
“It’s just basic science: People can be essentially suffocated to death when they’re lying on their stomachs in a prone position and there’s weight on their backs compressing their chest and diaphragm,” Heipt said.
All three officers returned to active duty in April after Cruezot dropped all criminal charges.
[Image via Dallas Morning News screengrab]