Two Dallas police officers involved in the arrest of a 911 caller who died in their custody told commanders they mocked the handcuffed man as part of a “strategy” to get him to respond.
The officers’ statements were part of an audio recording released Friday. They’re the first the public has heard from officers involved in the 2016 arrest of Tony Timpa, which began with the 32-year-old man calling authorities for help and ended with him dead in the back of an ambulance.
The circumstances of Timpa’s death have come under renewed scrutiny this week since legal motions by The Dallas Morning News and KXAS-TV prompted a federal judge to order the Dallas Police Department to release body camera footage of his arrest.
In the videos, officers can be seen forcefully pinning Timpa to the ground for more than 14 minutes and cracking jokes even as the screaming, handcuffed man goes still and silent. Shaking his limp body, the officers can be heard laughing and comparing Timpa to a child who doesn’t want to wake up for school. Not long after, a paramedic informs them that he’s dead.
Timpa called 911 on Aug. 10, 2016, from the parking lot of a Dallas porn store. He said he was afraid and needed help, telling a dispatcher he suffered from schizophrenia and depression and was off his prescription medication, according to the Morning News. Medical examiners ruled his death a homicide and said it was caused by cardiac arrest brought on by cocaine and the stress of physical restraint.
At a recorded disciplinary hearing, two officers acknowledged joking at Timpa’s expense and said it was the wrong approach. They do not identify themselves on the recording,
“It was merely to try and see if we could get some reaction from him,” one officer said of the mocking. “Try to engage him in a different way.”
A lawyer for Timpa’s family obtained the audio as part of a federal lawsuit against the officers and city of Dallas. He provided it to The Associated Press.
Attorney Geoff Henley said the officers’ claims that their mocking was strategic is “about as spurious as it gets.” Timpa’s mother called on them to be fired.
“The best thing that can happen for my son right now is for these officers to lose their badges,” Vicki Timpa said during a Friday morning news conference.
On the eight-minute recording, the head of the disciplinary hearing says that if the officers learned something from the incident they’ll probably be able to continue as city police. They then received written reprimands.
“I personally believe you guys are better than that,” the commander said. “But I still need you on the force. So if you learned something from it, most likely we can move forward from here.”
In 2017, a grand jury indicted Sgt. Kevin Mansell and Officers Danny Vasquez and Dustin Dillard for misdemeanor deadly conduct in Timpa’s death, finding they acted recklessly. Prosecutors dismissed the charges in March and the officers returned to active duty the next month.
Mike Mata, president of the Dallas Police Association, said the officers are not to blame.
“As we have said many times we are sorry for Mrs. Timpa loss of her son,” Mata said in a written statement. “But the officers did not cause his death. One of the officers never touched Mr. Timpa and only one officer restrained him.”
A police spokesman declined to comment Friday, citing the pending litigation.