DALLAS — Newly released body camera footage shows the final minutes of Tony Timpa’s life, facedown in grass, handcuffed and with a Dallas police officer kneeling on his back, using his full body weight to ensure Timpa remained still.
Instead, Timpa, a 32-year-old trucking company executive from Rockwall, wound up dead. His death in police custody was ruled a homicide, caused by the “toxic effects of cocaine and the stress associated with physical restraint,” according to The Dallas Morning News.
The footage was released Monday as part of an ongoing federal excessive force lawsuit filed by Timpa’s mother, Vicki Timpa, in 2016. The Timpa family, along with the News and other local media organizations, has fought for three years to secure the release of records related to Tony Timpa’s death.
Vicki Timpa was initially told by police that her son had a heart attack at a bar and died, the News reported. She knew something wasn’t right when she saw her son’s body at the morgue and he had grass in his mouth and nose and bruises on his arms.
It was only through bits and pieces of information from officials in the medical examiner’s office, and through the family’s lawsuit, that the truth came out.
“I wake up in a sweat if I do go to sleep,” a tearful Timpa told the News in September 2017. “Because my son is suffocating, gasping for air, his chest being crushed by four cops.”
Listen to Vicki Timpa and her lawyer talk about her son's death below, courtesy of the News.
An amended complaint filed in April 2017 in the lawsuit reflects the fact that the family’s lawyer had seen the body camera footage at that time. Geoff Henley, the attorney for Timpa’s family, told the News in September 2017 that what he saw was “ghastly.”
“It’s horrific. You literally see this man die on film,” Henley told the newspaper.
The footage still had not been made public, however.
A federal judge on Monday ruled in favor of the newspaper and NBC5, saying the public has a “compelling interest in understanding what truly took place during a fatal exchange between a citizen and law enforcement.”
U.S. District Judge David C. Godbey wrote in his ruling that law enforcement and prosecutors fought to keep the video and other records private by citing ongoing criminal investigations, then the criminal prosecutions of three officers who had been indicted in the case.
According to the News, Sgt. Kevin Mansell and officers Danny Vasquez and Dustin Dillard were indicted on charges of misdemeanor deadly conduct in 2017, three months after the News published the results of a comprehensive investigation into Timpa’s death.
“But the indictments against those officers were dismissed on March 18, 2019,” Godbey wrote.
Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot announced at that time that all three medical examiners who went before the grand jury said they did not believe the officers acted recklessly. The doctors said they could not testify to “the elements of the indictment beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Godbey ruled Monday that because the indictments were dismissed, the city and police department could no longer claim the need to maintain confidentiality in the case.
“Meanwhile, the public has a compelling interest in understanding what truly took place during a fatal exchange between a citizen and law enforcement,” Godbey wrote. “For both of those reasons, the court holds that there is no longer good cause to shield the documents from public scrutiny.”
Henley told NBC5 that the footage shows just how long it took for officers to realize something was amiss.
“He was not resisting. He was not armed. He was not threatening the officers,” Henley told the news station. “As a result, his death was an inexcusable tragedy.”
‘You’re gonna kill me’
Tony Timpa called 911 shortly after 10 p.m. on Aug. 10, 2016, from the parking lot of an adult video store, where he told dispatchers he was afraid for his life and needed help. During the call, he said he was schizophrenic and suffering from depression, and that he had not been taking his prescription medication, the News reported.
Dallas police records contradict themselves on Timpa’s temperament, according to the News’ investigation. Officers’ incident reports describe Timpa as aggressive and combative when they arrived at the scene, where he had been detained by a private security guard.
On a custodial death report submitted to the Texas Attorney General’s Office in 2016, however, department officials answered “no” to questions about whether Timpa resisted arrest or fought officers.
The custodial death report states that Timpa was in the store when he became “irrational” and ran outside.
“Witnesses said the subject believed someone was after him,” the document says.
A security guard followed him and tried to restrain him after he ran into traffic. Another security guard who worked for a different company happened to drive by and stopped to help.
The body camera footage released this week confirms the report’s statement that Timpa had already been handcuffed by the security guards when police officers arrived.
See the body camera footage released by the News below. Warning: The footage contains graphic images of a man's death.
The custodial death report states that Timpa stopped breathing after being placed in an ambulance that came to the scene.
The body camera footage shows that was not the case. Timpa was already dead before being placed in the ambulance.
A 6-minute clip released by the News begins with Timpa screaming for help. When an officer tells him to get on the ground, Timpa replies, “No, you’re gonna kill me.”
“I’m not gonna kill you,” the officer responds.
Timpa continues to say the officers are going to kill him. Footage from another officer’s body camera shows Timpa rolling around on the ground, trying to keep the officers off him. He rolls near the curb of Mockingbird Lane, where the porn store was located.
That’s when an officer, identified as Dillard in the federal lawsuit, puts his knee into Timpa’s back. Officers force him to roll over and, as one officer states, “Just keep him down,” they place him in the prone position.
The prone position, in which a person is held facedown with their arms and legs restrained, has been criticized as heightening the chances of the person developing positional asphyxia, in which their position on the ground prevents them from being able to breathe properly.
Timpa’s autopsy results, and the camera footage, indicate that may have been a factor in his death. According to the footage, Dillard held Timpa in that position for about 14 minutes, during which time he lost consciousness and died.
As Timpa wailed on the ground, officers joke about things they find in his wallet, including membership information for a Rockwell yacht club and an upscale health club. They also poke fun at the fact he has a Mercedes, which is parked in the lot of the adult video store.
“Will you let me go, please?” Timpa cries in the footage.
“Hey Tony, we’re just trying to help you out, man. Just relax,” an officer responds.
Dillard at some point early in the footage asks Timpa what he took, according to court documents. Timpa admits to using cocaine.
“I know it’s illegal, but I only took a little bit,” Timpa says.
Read the Timpa family's lawsuit against the Dallas police officers below.
Around this time in the footage, the officers replace the security guard’s handcuffs with a pair of their own. They also use flex cuffs to bind Timpa’s feet.
Dillard is seen kneeling on Timpa’s back and putting his full weight on the prone man.
One officer asks about a “Green Oaks cocktail special.” The News reported that Green Oaks Hospital is a private psychiatric facility in Dallas.
The officers continue to joke, but also continue to put pressure on Timpa’s back. Timpa is still conscious at that point, making unintelligible sounds as his face presses into the grass.
As the officers and Dallas fire medics debate how to get him onto a gurney and into the ambulance, Timpa stops moving. According to the lawsuit, he lost consciousness about 11 and a half minutes into the camera footage.
About a minute later, the officers start to ask him if he is all right.
“Tony, you still with us?” one asks.
“You’re all right, bud,” another says. “You’re going to be all right.”
As they continue to call out his name with no response, one officer kneeling a couple of feet from Timpa observes that his nose is buried in the grass. Another officer claimed that Timpa was snoring and another says, “He’s out cold.”
“What the (expletive)?” one officer asks. “Is he asleep?”
“Yeah, he’s asleep,” another says.
The officers do not check Timpa’s breathing or feel for a pulse to ensure he’s all right. Instead, they begin to joke about waking Timpa up.
“It’s time for school. Wake up!” one tells him.
“I don’t want to go to school!” another says, mimicking a child. “Five more minutes, mom!”
As the officers joke about buying him new shoes and making him a special breakfast for the first day of school, Timpa is dying.
At this point in the footage, a paramedic gives Timpa a sedative injection. An officer asks if the drug he administered was Narcan, a drug used to counteract an opioid overdose.
The paramedic tells him it was a sedative, to which an officer again makes reference to a “Green Oaks cocktail.”
The News reported that Timpa was given a dose of Versed, a powerful sedative often used to relax surgery patients prior to putting them under anesthesia.
In an affidavit obtained by the newspaper, one of the paramedics claimed he was “unable to assess the patient due to his combativeness.” The body camera footage, however, shows that medics were able to take Timpa’s blood pressure while he was conscious.
He had already gone limp when the Versed was administered.
Dallas Fire-Rescue officials declined to offer comment on the medics’ actions, citing the ongoing federal lawsuit, the News said.
When the officers eventually turn Timpa over and lift him onto a gurney, his body is limp. His eyes are partially open and glassy.
Dillard, who the federal lawsuit names as the officer who knelt on Timpa’s back, asks if he’s breathing.
“He’s not dead is he?” the officer asks.
“No, he just moved,” another officer says. “I think.”
“He didn’t just die down there, did he?” Dillard asks, turning and looking at the ground.
As an officer rubs his knuckles roughly on Timpa’s chest, trying to illicit a pain response, Dillard asks again if he is breathing.
Other officers smile as Timpa is carried toward the ambulance.
“I hope I didn’t kill him,” Dillard says.
Another officer, appearing to wish to distance himself from the situation, jokes, “What’s this ‘we’ you’re talking about?”
The officers continue to laugh and joke as Timpa is loaded into the ambulance.
Once paramedics start to look him over, one of them informs the officers that Timpa is not breathing.
“He’s not breathing? Oh (expletive),” one officer exclaims.
A second paramedic tells the officers for one of them to put on gloves and start chest compressions. One man climbs into the ambulance to help.
“Oh (expletive),” another officer says.
As Mansell, the sergeant on the scene, tells the paramedics he has Timpa’s stepmother, Kim Timpa, on the phone, a paramedic points down to the man’s limp body.
“He’s dead,” the medic says.
“He’s what?” an officer asks.
According to the lawsuit, Mansell abruptly ends the call with Kim Timpa and walks over to Vasquez.
“What the (expletive)?” an angry Mansell says, according to the filing.
The News reported that it was four minutes or more from the time Timpa fell silent to when the first responders began CPR. He was dead within 20 minutes of officers responding to his call for help.
It took another 15 minutes for the ambulance to get his body to Parkland Hospital about a mile away, the newspaper said.
The News obtained internal records that show the Dallas Police Department completed its internal review of Timpa’s death months before the officers involved were indicted. Though all three were initially disciplined for “conduct discrediting,” those allegations were abandoned when Creuzot dropped the criminal charges.
Vasquez and another officer received written reprimands for “discourtesy” and “unprofessionalism,” the newspaper reported.
All three spent time on administrative leave, but they were returned to active duty in April, once the criminal charges were dismissed.
Vicki Timpa told the News in 2017 that as a child, her son idolized police officers. She would often read him the story of Peter Pat and the Policeman, in which a child who has gotten lost gets help from a police officer, as his mother taught him to do.
He believed that story until the day he died, she said.
“He called 911 because he needed help,” Timpa told the newspaper. “They held him facedown to the ground; he couldn’t breathe. Then they killed him.”
Cox Media Group