In 2016, Tony Timpa called the Dallas police from a parking lot, saying he was afraid and needed help, adding that he suffered from schizophrenia and depression and was off of his medication and had taken drugs. Recently-released bodycam footage revealed the police that were supposed to be there to help him killed him.
The Dallas News did an in-depth investigation in 2017 in an attempt to find out how Timpa called the police for help and then died in their custody. The investigation found, despite the police refusing to explain the incident. Timpa’s family filed a lawsuit alleging excessive force, and this week, a federal judge ruled in favor the Dallas News and NBC5’s motion to release records from Timpa’s death, saying the public had a “compelling interest” in seeing the footage.
The graphic video private security guards had already handcuffed Timpa before the police arrived. Timpa was restrained face down on the ground and visibly afraid, writhing and begging with officers to not hurt him.
“You’re gonna kill me!” he repeated several times.
When the officers replace the handcuffs the private security guards placed on Timpa with their own, they pin him down, joking and laughing about Timpa’s condition as he groans on the ground, face pressed into the grass. Eventually, he stops moving and making noises. When they notice he is unconscious, they assume he is asleep, and continue making jokes.
“Time for school, wake up!” the officers mock as a paramedic administers a sedative. Another makes a joke about a “Green Oaks cocktail,” referencing the Green Oaks psychiatric hospital in Dallas.
They move Timpa onto a gurney, noticing his eyes are partially open and his body is limp.
“He didn’t just die down there, did he?” one officer asks. “Is he breathing? Hope I didn’t kill him.”
The officers then erupt into laughter.
Minutes later, the paramedics notice Timpa is dead.
Police incident reports claim the officers’ said Timpa was aggressive and combative, and that they only used the necessary force to restrain him but the footage disproves their allegations, showing officers continue to pin him down long after his body goes limp.
The video does not make it clear why paramedics did not intervene as soon as Timpa lost consciousness.
The autopsy ruled Timpa’s death was a homicide, sudden cardiac death attributed to “the toxic effects of cocaine and the stress associated with physical restraint.”
The three officers in the video: Keven Mansell, Danny Vasquez and Dustin Dillard were indicted in 2017 on charges of misdemeanor deadly conduct, but in March, the Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot dismissed the charges.
The prone position Timpa was placed in is controversial in policing due to the risks of suffocation it poses. Police are generally trained to immediately place handcuffed people on their sides to prevent breathing problems.
With mental health crisis services often being difficult to access in the U.S., police officers are often the first responders. However, lack of training on how to de-escalate crisis situations involving mental illness leads to those who need help from police dying because of them.
Those who suffer from mental illness are more likely to encounter police officers than medical professionals. With one in four of all fatal police encounters involving people with untreated mental illness, that reality is not comforting.