Warning: Distressing Content
Newly released body-cam footage from the death of a Dallas man in 2016 shows police joking and laughing as they restrained him.
Tony Timpa died in the parking lot of an adult video store August 2016 after being pinned to the ground for nearly 14 minutes. The 32-year-old had called the authorities himself, saying he was off his medication for schizophrenia and depression and needed help.
Questions have been raised about what happened in the moments leading to his death and, after a three-year fight for records, on Monday (July 29) a federal judge ruled in favour of a motion filed by The Dallas News and NBC5 to release the Dallas Police Department body camera footage.
Timpa called 911 from the parking lot, telling the dispatcher he was afraid. However, rather than offering help the footage shows officers holding him to the floor despite the 32-year-old repeatedly crying out they were ‘gonna kill’ him.
The Dallas man fell unconscious but the officers assumed he was asleep and didn’t check whether he was breathing or feel for a pulse. The police could be heard laughing and joking about waking Timpa up for school and making him waffles for breakfast, with with one yelling ‘five more minutes, mom!’, while a paramedic reportedly applied a ‘powerful sedative’.
First responders waited for at least four minutes after Timpa became unresponsive to begin CPR. His nose was buried in the grass and officers claimed to hear him snoring, though in reality the frightened man was drawing his last breaths.
Dallas News report one of the first responders said they were ‘unable to assess the patient due to his combativeness’, however the medical responders appeared to take Timpa’s blood pressure while he was still conscious.
About five minutes later they administered the sedative, though by that time officers were already questioning if the 32-year-old was awake.
Timpa was eventually loaded on to a gurney and put in an ambulance but the 32-year-old was already dead. As the authorities moved his body the officers can be heard saying ‘He didn’t just die down there, did he?’ and ‘I hope I didn’t kill him.’
Wailing and pleading with police officers not to kill him, those same officers laughed when he fell unconscious and was dying. Those same officers, who didn’t provide CPR, joked about waking the 32 yo man up for school & making him waffles for breakfast.
— David Beard (@dabeard) July 31, 2019
According to Dallas News, police incident reports claimed Timpa’s behaviour that night was aggressive and combative, though the body-cam recording appears to tell a different story. He had already been handcuffed by a private security guard before police arrived and he never threatened to hurt the officers.
The footage was part of a lawsuit filed by Timpa’s family in federal court alleging excessive force.
Speaking to CBS Dallas in 2018, Timpa’s mother Vicki said:
He was expecting someone to help him, that’s why he called . He wasn’t expecting several police to kill him.
An autopsy reportedly ruled Timpa’s cause of death as a homicide. He is said to have experienced sudden cardiac death due to ‘the toxic effects of cocaine and the stress associated with physical restraint.’
'You're gonna kill me!': Dallas police body cam footage reveals the final minutes of #TonyTimpa's life
— Benjamin Young Savage (ᐱᓐᒋᐱᓐ) (@benjancewicz) July 31, 2019
In 2017, the three officers involved, Kevin Mansell, Danny Vasquez and Dustin Dillard, were indicted by a grand jury on charges of misdemeanor deadly conduct. The grand jury’s indictment stated the ‘officers engaged in reckless conduct that placed Timpa in imminent danger of serious bodily injury.’
However, in March, Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot dismissed the charges. Creuzot told The Dallas News he met with ‘all three medical examiners’ who had testified to the grand jury and they reportedly told him they did not believe the officers acted recklessly and ‘cannot, and will not, testify to the elements of the indictment beyond a reasonable doubt’.
The footage showed Dillard pinning Timpa to the ground with his knee in his back in what is known as the ‘prone position’, a method of restraint which is reportedly controversial in policing. Several studies have shown it may increase the risk for asphyxiation and sudden death.
People wonder why those with Mental Illness don’t want to reach out or call for help, here is why. #JusticeForTony
— Journey of Faith (@treppab) August 1, 2019
Geoff Henley, an attorney for Timpa’s family, told CBS Dallas officers had no reason to use that kind of restraint for that long.
Tony Timpa shouldn’t have died that night. He called 911 and he called 911 hoping to go back into some inpatient facility. Tony Timpa needed help, he didn’t need to go to the morgue.
In their lawsuit, Timpa’s family claims the officers ‘recklessly’ and ‘knowingly’ killed the 32-year-old.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.