CHP of­fi­cers not li­able for 2014 in-cus­tody death

Imperial Valley Press - - FRONT PAGE - A me­mo­rial for Tommy Yancy Jr. hangs on a fence off 15th Street and High­way 86 in Im­pe­rial on May 23, 2014. BY JULIO MO­RALES Staff Writer

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.



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