Newly released video footage from the 2016 death of an unarmed man who had called 911 for his own help shows that Dallas police ignored the man’s desperate and repeated cries as they pinned him to the ground, mocked him for passing out, and neglected to give him timely medical care, the Dallas Morning News reported Tuesday.
The video, which emerged from a court victory by the newspaper and NBC5 in their three-year fight against the city over records in the case, called into question the internal police version of events, which was itself gathered from records obtained from the family’s lawsuit against the city.
The incident began when Tony Timpa, 32, called 911 from a parking lot, asking for help and claiming he was afraid. He told the dispatcher that he had schizophrenia and depression, that he was off his medication, and that he had taken drugs. City and county officials later resisted sharing records from the encounter, citing an investigation and the lawsuit from Timpa’s family. But in internal records, police reported that Timpa was combative during the incident, and they said the officers only used enough physical force to prevent a distressed Timpa from rolling into a busy street.
But the new footage paints a different image. In the videos, Timpa rolls around in apparent distress on the ground—not threatening or actively trying to attack any of the officers. (In a separate report, the department did say Timpa had not resisted arrest or threatened or fought officers.) And as the Morning News pointed out, the concern for traffic should have been a brief one, as police blocked traffic near their scrum and could have released some of the physical pressure on Timpa at that point, early into their encounter.
Until the Morning News obtained body camera footage this week, it had been completely unclear how a police call that began with an unarmed man’s request for help ended with that man’s death. The video begins when the officers show up to find private security guards had already handcuffed Timpa. Timpa, with a frightened voice, cries out repeatedly that “you’re gonna kill me.” (According to the Morning News, he said this more than 30 times.) He begins rolling around in distress. The officers pin Timpa to the ground by his knees, neck, and shoulders. “You’re OK, you’re OK,” one officer says. An officer also comments in a joking way about the upscale address listed on Timpa’s license, as Timpa cries and asks to be let go.
For 13 minutes, they hold him in something called the “prone position”—a controversial restraint method in policing that involves binding someone’s legs and arms as they lay face-down, and that, according to the Morning News, may increase the likelihood of asphyxiation and death. As the officers continue joking, Timpa’s protestations become less coherent, and he eventually falls unconscious. “Yeah, he took something,” one officer comments when Timpa falls silent.
Timpa stops moving. It’s at this point that officers begin asking him if he’s all right. “I’d make sure he’s still breathing,” one officer says, as another scoffs. “Because his nose is buried in the dirt.” The officers appear to grow slightly anxious as they repeatedly call to Timpa, but they continue to crack jokes anyway.
“Is he asleep?” one officer asks. Another laughs. “He’s snoring, that’s what it was.”
“Tony,” one officer says, “it’s time for school, wake up.”
Another officer laughs and adopts a mock-teenage voice. “I don’t want to go to school, Mom. Five more minutes, Mom.” Others laugh. Another officer joins in: “First day, you can’t be late!”
An officer with his knee on Timpa’s back and his hands on his shoulders shakes him again, calling out his name. Another officer: “We bought you new shoes for the first day of school, come on.” More laughter. A third: “We made breakfast, scrambled eggs, your favorite. With waffles.” Still more laughter.
The video also raised questions about medical responders’ reactions. It was at this point in the video, after Timpa has fallen still, that a paramedic administered a sedative. Paramedics had arrived earlier—they can be seen moving in the background when Timpa is still alert—and it’s unclear why they failed to intervene sooner. One paramedic said in an affidavit that he was unable to treat Timpa because of his “combativeness.” The medical responders waited at least four minutes after Timpa became unresponsive to begin CPR.
After the sedative is delivered, the officers then comment on him being “out cold.” They lift Timpa onto a gurney. He is limp, and his eyes are partially open. The officers still do not realize that Timpa is dead.
One officer asks if Timpa is breathing. “He’s not dead, is he?” one asks. “Nah, he just moved,” another answered. “I think.” Another officers admits, “That was a little freaky.”
“He didn’t just die down there, did he?” one officer says. “Hope I didn’t kill him.” They continue to joke. Once the paramedics enter the ambulance, they tell the officers that Timpa is not breathing.
“So he was fighting and he just gave up,” one officer says, after another swears. The paramedic points to Timpa. “He’s dead,” the medic says.
Even though the death was ruled a homicide, resulting from the stress of the restraint combined with “the toxic effects of cocaine,” the criminal case against three of the officers never made it to trial. After a grand jury indicted them on charges of misdemeanor deadly conduct and concluded that the officers “engaged in reckless conduct” that endangered Timpa, the Dallas County district attorney dismissed the charges, citing testimony from medical examiners.
Internally, the Dallas Police Department disciplined the three officers, placing them on administrative leave after finding they had acted in a way that discredited the department. But after the criminal charges were dropped, they were returned to active duty in April.