The civil trial in the case of the 2016 death of Tony Timpa during an encounter with Dallas police officers began on Monday. The incident did not receive much media attention at the time, but received more attention after the murder of George Floyd. While the officers involved in Timpa’s death were not convicted of a crime, his family has filed a lawsuit against the law enforcement officials.
On August 10, 2016, Timpa, a 32-year-old trucking executive, called 911 for help. He had struggled with schizophrenia and anxiety, and he had not been on his medication at the time. He made the call from a parking lot in Dallas. The encounter with police ended with his death after one of the officers knelt on his neck for 14 minutes. Now, his family seeks to hold the officers civilly liable for his death.
A jury has been seated in the long-anticipated civil case against four Dallas police officers accused in the 2016 death of Tony Timpa.
Timpa, 32, died while in police custody. A body camera video released by the police department to NBC 5 and The Dallas Morning News showed officers mocking him as he pleaded for help dozens of times while restrained in handcuffs.
Timpa had initially called 911 from a parking lot saying he was afraid and unarmed and that he was off his medication for anxiety and schizophrenia.
Within about 20 minutes of police arriving, Timpa became unresponsive and died.
The road to this trial has been fraught with legal complications and setbacks. The Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office deemed Timpa’s death a homicide because of the cocaine he had ingested and the officer’s restraint technique. Three of the officers were initially indicted on misdemeanor charges of deadly conduct. However, Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot dropped the charges in 2019.
Later, a federal appeals court ruled that qualified immunity, which could have shielded the officers from civil liability, would not apply to the officers.
Officer Danny Vasquez, one of the officials involved in the incident, denied responsibility for Timpa’s death during the trial. The officer claimed that they were “reacting to Mr. Timpa” and that he “had a pattern … of calming down and acting out and calming down and acting out.”
During the proceedings, the bodycam footage showing Timpa’s last moments was played for the court. This prompted an emotional response from Vicki Timpa, Tony’s mother. During his opening statements, her attorney argued that the officers should have employed a “five-man takedown” on Timpa, which is a tactic that law enforcement uses on an individual who is going through a mental health episode without affecting their ability to breathe.
The defense argued that it was Timpa’s lifestyle that led to his death. They referred to his struggles with drugs and mental health. The attorneys said the officers acted in accordance with their training and did not view their actions as unreasonable.
While Timpa’s death had several key similarities to that of George Floyd’s, it did not get the same level of news coverage on mainstream media outlets. This is likely because Timpa was white, which means there was no racial angle present in his encounter with the police.
The trial has already received national media attention and prompted a debate on police protocols and training, especially when it concerns those suffering from mental health problems.