IMPERIAL — An employee of a convenience store near the site of a traffic stop, after which an Imperial man died Sunday, said she saw the incident from start to finish, describing the deceased as “mad” and uncooperative but also described law enforcement reaction as “too much.”
Imperial resident Tommy Yancy Jr., 32, who was identified Monday by coroner’s officials, died following what the California Highway Patrol referred to as an enforcement stop near Imperial Avenue and East 15th Street on Sunday afternoon.
The employee, who was working at the am/pm and asked not to be named, said she and her co-worker watched the incident from the store as a Highway Patrol canine unit made a stop on a white Chrysler 300 driven by Yancy.
The officer approached Yancy, who was “mad, so he kicked the door open to get out of the car,” the witness said. She added Yancy and the officer began arguing.
Customers coming into the store told her that the officers were telling Yancy to get on the ground or they would release the canine on him. She said that she didn’t see Yancy physically fight the officers but that he wasn’t cooperating either.
Yancy was “extremely combative and swung at the officer” and “the officer was forced to deploy his (canine) to protect his safety,” according to a Highway Patrol news release.
“He wasn’t getting on the floor, so they released the dog towards him,” the am/pm employee said. “He was defending himself to the dog. He was holding the dog from the head trying to choke him to try to get the mouth to not bite him. He was protecting himself.”
The dog bit Yancy’s arm, and Yancy placed the dog in a chokehold and punched the dog several times, according to the Highway Patrol. A struggle between Highway Patrol officers and Yancy continued before officers deployed a Taser on him to get him to release the dog, which had become limp and unresponsive, CHP Public Information Officer German Lazarin said.
More officers arrived on scene and had Yancy on the ground as the Taser was used on him, the am/pm employee said.
“They were actually beating him up and hitting him with a stick. He was not fighting back. He was moving around trying to get away from them,” she added. “He wasn’t punching or kicking or nothing.”
Officers handcuffed Yancy, and Highway Patrol said he “continued to be combative after being placed in handcuffs.”
Yancy then became unresponsive and officers provided cardiopulmonary resuscitation before paramedics arrived and transported him to El Centro Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead about an hour later.
Imperial police officers had also arrived on scene to provide assistance.
“Everything happened so fast, so I’m going to say one little thing made it a whole big thing. It was too many cops for just one person. It was too much from my point of view,” the employee said. “Yesterday I was in shock. I never saw something like that, never, never in my life.”
As a mother, she said she felt badly for Yancy’s children and mother, who she met Monday while speaking with family members seeking information.
“The case remains under investigation, so I am limited in what I can say beyond the information that has been provided,” Lazarin said. “However, as a matter of policy, every time there is a use of force by our officers, there is a review conducted to determine whether the use of force was appropriate. That will be done in this case.”
An autopsy for Yancy is scheduled for today, and toxicology tests will be available in about eight weeks, Imperial County Deputy Coroner Rodolfo Barron said.
The Imperial Valley Press has placed public records requests with both Highway Patrol and Imperial police for any video and dispatch calls related to the incident.
The incident was reportedly witnessed by several bystanders, and video was also taken of the incident, reportedly by several people. Anyone with further information or who would like to share video can call 760-337-3452.
The canine was taken to an emergency veterinary hospital and was in stable condition Monday.
Staff Writer Chelcey Adami can be reached at 760-337-3452 or firstname.lastname@example.org