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Monday, October 3, 2022
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Supreme Court Allows Dallas Wrongful-Death Suit to Proceed

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Judges Gavel | Image by Shutterstock

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The U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the City of Dallas’s petition to dismiss a wrongful-death lawsuit against four Dallas police officers involved in the death of Tony Timpa.

Members of Timpa’s family filed the lawsuit in December 2016. After initially being dismissed by a U.S. district court, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals allowed the suit to continue.

Dallas city attorneys appealed that decision, but the matter was settled on May 31, 2022, by the Supreme Court’s refusal to review their petition, clearing the way for a trial.

Geoff Henley, the Timpa family’s attorney, said that since the City has exhausted all available legal avenues to get the case dismissed, it now has no other option than to face Timpa’s family in court.

“They want to be heard,” Henley told The Dallas Morning News. “They want to be able to sit on the witness stand and tell their story.”

Timpa’s family accused Senior Corporal Dustin Dillard of using excessive force by pressing his knee into Timpa’s back while restraining the man.

The family argues that officers knew Timpa was “suffering drug-induced psychosis” but still restrained him for 15 minutes in a position that made breathing difficult.

Their lawsuit cited guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice instructing law enforcement officers to get suspects off their stomachs as soon as they are handcuffed to avoid positional asphyxia, according to court records.

For its part, the City argued that Timpa struggled physically with officers for 14 out of the 15 minutes, thus making it reasonable for Dillard to maintain his hold on Timpa.

The City also claimed that Dillard had explicitly asked one of the responding paramedics if he should roll Timpa over but was told to hold him in place.

However, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a jury could conclude that Timpa had been subdued in the first nine minutes, consequently rendering the final five minutes of his being restrained a possible violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.

“Nothing these officers did contributed to the death of Tony Timpa,” said Robert Rogers, the attorney who previously represented the officers during their criminal investigation. “It was a medical issue that was brought on by a snowball of circumstances that were mainly caused by the lifestyle of Tony Timpa himself.”

In an interview with CBS 11, the family’s attorney Henley stated the officer’s bodycam footage “tells the story in grizzly, graphic, painful detail.”

The Dallas County medical examiner who conducted Timpa’s autopsy ruled that he died from “sudden cardiac death due to the toxic effects of cocaine and physiological stress associated with physical restraint.”          

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