CHP officers not liable for 2014 in-custody death
SAN DIEGO — A federal jury recently found that two local California Highway Patrol officers did not use excessive force and were not liable for damages in connection to the in-custody death of Tommy Yancy Jr. on May 11, 2014 in Imperial.
The nine-member jury had deliberated for one day and returned with a verdict on Jan. 26, following seven days of trial in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.
The federal civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit had been filed by Yancy’s surviving family members in March 2015 and had sought $10 million in damages.
Yancy, 32, of Imperial, had died while in custody following a traffic stop by the CHP near the intersection of Highway 86 and 15th Street in Imperial. During that traffic stop, Yancy had reportedly failed to follow officers’ commands, resulting in the use of a CHP K-9, batons and a Taser to subdue and arrest him.
Ultimately, jurors had found that CHP Officers Gilbert Caldera and Salvador Acevedo did not use excessive force during the traffic stop and subsequent arrest of Yancy. Jurors also found that Acevedo did not commit battery against Yancy, court records stated. Caldera and Acevedo are now seeking the recovery of tax costs associated with the years-long trial. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Feb. 28 at the federal courthouse in San Diego.
The initial complaint filed by Yancy’s surviving family members had also included additional defendants, including several CHP officers and supervisors, as well as Imperial Police Department personnel and county Sheriff Ray Loera.
Except for Caldera and Acevedo, all of the original defendants were dismissed from the case during the course of the trial, court records stated.
Yancy had been pulled over at about 1:20 p.m. by Caldera for driving a vehicle without a front license plate. In California, vehicles are required to have a license plate on the front and rear. Upon approaching the vehicle’s passenger side, Caldera reportedly detected a strong odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle and observed Yancy become “highly agitated” during their initial encounter, prompting Caldera to call for backup, according to a June 2015 in-custody death evaluation conducted by the county District Attorney’s Office.
The DA Office’s six-page report ultimately concluded that the officers involved with attempting to subdue and arrest Yancy took lawful actions that were prompted by Yancy’s belligerent and aggressive behavior.
“All of those actions were reasonable under the circumstances and, therefore, the officers bear no criminal liability in this matter,” the report stated.
Yancy’s death was ruled accidental and had resulted from “agitated behavior associated with marijuana intake needing restraint and other unknown factors,” according to a county Coroner’s Office report from December 2014.
Yancy also reportedly had a heart condition — hypertrophic cardiomyopathy — that may have been aggravated by the use of a Taser and acted as a contributing factor in his death, the coroner’s report stated.
Yancy was a combat veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and prescribed the medication Abilify, according to information obtained from the Veteran’s Administration and included in the coroner’s report.
Those same VA records revealed that Yancy was diagnosed with schizophrenia, hypertension and alcohol and marijuana dependency, the DA’s Office report stated.
The arrest of Yancy had sparked controversy after a cell phone video emerged, prompting some community members to allege authorities used excessive force during their attempt to subdue and arrest him.
Shortly after successfully being able to handcuff Yancy, officers determined he was no longer breathing and reportedly began to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation procedures until an ambulance arrived and transported him to El Centro Regional Medical Center.
He was pronounced dead a little more than an hour after the initial traffic stop.