On August 10, 2016, an unarmed man named Tony Timpa died in police custody after fearfully calling the authorities and informing them he had taken drugs.
The circumstances surrounding Timpa's have been under suspicion since the incident, but after being indicted for "misdemeanor deadly conduct" in 2017, prosecutors dropped all charges against the officers in 2019 because they could not prove the officers acted "recklessly."
Now, however, The Dallas Morning News has obtained one of the officer's bodycams from the night of Timpa's death. This footage was previously sealed from the public by court order, and the chilling scene shows the police officers laughing and joking while Timpa dies on the ground in front of them due to their actions.
*Warning: This video contains images some viewers may find disturbing*
Dallas Police body cameras show moment Tony Timpa stopped breathing youtu.be
By the time Dallas police arrived, Timpa had already been handcuffed by local security guards to stop him from running into traffic. Timpa told officers he was high on cocaine and that he was off his schizophrenia medicine.
Dallas police officers laughed and joked around as they killed Tony Timpa. It's on video. They were indicted on mi… https://t.co/vJ5sSQxv2p— Rebecca Kavanagh (@Rebecca Kavanagh)1564603913.0
When Timpa struggled on the ground, yelling for help, the officers decided to hold him in a highly controversial position known as the "prone position," burying his face in the grass while holding his handcuffed arms behind his back.
This is so awful. Mentally ill man calls 911 for help. Police asphyxiate him in “prime” restraint. Grand jury indic… https://t.co/TMpjD80Hjc— Sherrilyn Ifill (@Sherrilyn Ifill)1564581824.0
The officers held Timpa in this position for 14 minutes as he yells for help, repeatedly screaming:
"You're gonna kill me!"
While police claim they were holding Timpa in the position to keep him from running into traffic, the bodycam footage shows a nearby police cruiser pulling up to block access to the street.
turns out Dallas cops lied about suffocating a mentally ill guy to death. they laughed and mocked him while he begg… https://t.co/3Cs53rjZPV— ryan cooper (@ryan cooper)1564590155.0
Dallas police killed Tony Timpa, a mentally ill man who called them for help. He yells, “you’re gonna kill me!”… https://t.co/BVVs1hojR9— StanceGrounded (@StanceGrounded)1564621258.0
Gradually, Timpa's pleas get softer and softer as he begins to lose consciousness. The officers make fun of Timpa, laughing as they mock his voice.
When Timpa finally goes quiet, the officers notice and try to determine if he's still conscious. When he snorts in response, they joke that he's fallen asleep and continue laughing.
But seriously this is the most important thing and it will likely get missed today. It is not thing adjacent. It is… https://t.co/UdyaLX0uaM— Jane Coaston (@Jane Coaston)1564579701.0
Paramedics arrived on the scene shortly thereafter and load Timpa onto a gurney. As they do so, one officer remarks:
"He didn't just die down there did he? I hope I didn't kill him."
Minutes later, the paramedics informed the officers Timpa was dead.
Call the police for help and there’s a decent chance you’ll end up dead. https://t.co/uCpmHrszGM— b-boy bouiebaisse (@b-boy bouiebaisse)1564579931.0
The Dallas County Medical Examiner's office ruled Timpa's death a homicide, saying he suffered from a cardiac arrest caused by "the toxic effects of cocaine and the stress associated with physical restraint."
All three officers caught on camera participating in Timpa's death, Kevin Mansell, Danny Vasquez and Dustin Dillard, were later cleared of charges and are now back on active duty.
Whether or not the officer's choices were truly reckless enough to prosecute, there's no doubt their conduct, mocking a man as he dies on the ground due to their actions, deserve a strong rebuke from the public.
Timpa may not have been a perfect man, but he called the police seeking help and was ultimately killed by their intervention.
Deaths of truly mentally ill people in interactions with law enforcement are high. While mass murderers rarely die during encounters with police—unless choosing to take their own lives—despite being branded mentally ill by the public to justify their mass shootings, people with diagnosed disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or autism often are killed while seeking help.
The book Insane: America's Criminal Treatment of Mental Illness is available here.