Opinion

White Man Can’t Breathe

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Posted: Jun 02, 2020 10:15 AM
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White Man Can’t Breathe

Source: AP Photo/Jake Bleiberg

Cary Aspinwall and Dave Boucher are investigative reporters for The Dallas Morning News. They deserve a Pulitzer Prize for an article written last summer that apparently no one in America has read, which is why I am summarizing it here today. It was about a man named Tony Timpa who cried for help more than 30 times as Dallas police officers pinned his neck to the ground. Before he died, Timpa shouted repeatedly, “You’re gonna kill me!”

And kill him the police officers did. After Timpa became unconscious, the officers who had him cuffed assumed he was asleep. As the minutes passed, the officers joked about waking him up for school and making him waffles for breakfast.

Body camera footage shows first responders waited at least four minutes after Timpa became unresponsive to begin CPR. Even worse, the police officers pinned his handcuffed arms behind his back for nearly 14 minutes and zip-tied his legs together. Shortly after he was loaded onto a gurney and put into an ambulance, Timpa was pronounced dead.

This culminated an incident that began when Timpa called 911 from the parking lot of a Dallas porn store. He told a dispatcher he suffered from schizophrenia and depression and was off his prescription medication. Later, police incident reports falsely claimed Timpa’s behavior that night was aggressive. In stark contradiction, the police video shows Timpa struggling to breathe and asking the officers to stop pinning him down. 

In another contradiction, contained in a portion of a custodial death report submitted to the state of Texas in 2016, the department answered "no" to questions about whether Timpa resisted arrest or otherwise behaved aggressively. Indeed, a private security guard had already handcuffed him before police arrived.

Shockingly, footage from the police video shows officers mocking Timpa as he struggled to live. Shortly after one officer ridicules Timpa’s cries for help, an officer observes that he appears to be “out cold.” Nonetheless they joked that he was merely asleep and tried to wake him saying, “It’s time for school. Wake up!” One officer mockingly says, “I don’t want to go to school! Five more minutes, Mom!”

One of the medical responders to the scene falsely claimed, “I was unable to assess the patient due to his combativeness.” However, police video footage shows that the responders attempt to take Timpa’s blood pressure while he is still conscious, about five minutes before administering a powerful sedative.

Timpa died within 20 minutes of police arriving at the scene. An autopsy ruled Timpa's cause of death sudden cardiac death due to "the toxic effects of cocaine and the stress associated with physical restraint." Nonetheless, a criminal case against the police officers that were present never made it to trial.

The three officers -- Kevin Mansell, Danny Vasquez and Dustin Dillard -- were indicted by a grand jury in 2017 on charges of misdemeanor deadly conduct. After two days of testimony, the grand jury's indictment stated that the "officers engaged in reckless conduct that placed Timpa in imminent danger of serious bodily injury." However, in March, Dallas County District Attorney John Creuzot dismissed the charges.

The Dallas Police Department's internal affairs investigation resulted in Dillard, Mansell and Vasquez being disciplined for "conduct discrediting" the department. However, those allegations were later dropped. Vasquez and another officer present at Timpa's death also received written reprimands for "discourtesy" and "unprofessionalism."  

Mansell and Vasquez were placed on administrative leave in December 2017. Dillard was also placed on leave in March 2018. But the officers returned to active duty in April after Creuzot dropped the criminal case against them.

The police video shows that Dillard pins Timpa to the ground with his knee in his back for more than 13 minutes. When the officers first arrived at the scene, they told Timpa he would be OK. “We’re going to get you some help, man,” one of the officers tells him. But within 15 minutes, Dillard can be heard saying: “I hope I didn’t kill him.” Finally, Dillard turned to someone before shutting off his camera and said, “Sorry. We tried.” 

This is how three police officers presided over the death of Tony Timpa. There were no George Soros funded protests. There were no Antifa riots. He was only 32. And he was only white.

Nonetheless, it is time to re-open this case in the court of public opinion, if not a court of law. Only then will we learn whether current outrage over the death of George Floyd is based upon righteous indignation or political opportunism.