Parts of what could be one of the most explosive trials in the history of Imperial County will now play out at the federal courthouse in Imperial County.
Pretrial proceedings in the $10 million lawsuit filed by the survivors of Tommy Yancy, Jr. will be heard at the El Centro Federal Courthouse. Yancy died after being taken into police custody in May 2014, during a traffic stop in Imperial.
Court documents show that Magistrate Judge Peter C. Lewis is now assigned to hearing preliminary matters in the case. If the case goes to trial, Federal Judge Jeffery Miller will hear the case in San Diego. The case is filed in federal court and alleges the denial of Yancy’s civil rights by the CHP and the Imperial Police Department. Imperial County, the city of Imperial and the Imperial County Sheriff’s Office are also named in the suit.
The actual trial would be held in San Diego, where the main courthouse for the United States District Court’s Southern District of California is located. No criminal charges have been filed in the case.
A rash of civilian deaths at the hands of law enforcement, whether justified or not, has turned a harsh spotlight on incidents like the case involving Yancy. Given the events in Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore, Los Angeles and New York, it’s likely that this case will also receive national attention.
On May 11, 2014, Yancy was pulled over for a minor traffic violation by California Highway Patrol Officer Gilbert Caldera. At some point during the stop, Yancy was asked to step out of the car, and either became confrontational with the officers or CHP officers used excessive force to as they tried to subdue him.
According to the Imperial County coroner’s report, which was signed by Deputy Coroner Rodolfo Barron, and Dr. Daryl Garber, a forensic pathologist, CHP officers told Barron that Yancy was combative when he was stopped.
The report also confirms that Yancy was bitten by a police dog. After the dog bit Yancy, he grabbed the dog and started choking it. Yancy was then struck by a Taser. The report indicates that Yancy continued to struggle, and was then “dry tased.” A Taser has a removable dart that can be used to immobilize someone. The dart can be removed and the Taser can be applied directly to a person to stun them.
Witnesses said Yancy was not resisting arrest. He was then placed in handcuffs. The coroner’s report goes on to note that Yancy lost consciousness about two minutes after being handcuffed. Officers then began trying to resuscitate him. He was then transported to El Centro Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. An autopsy revealed a bone in Yancy’s neck was broken. Attorney David Fox, who is representing Yancy family members, said the injury was consistent with a chokehold.
The toxicology report that accompanied the coroner’s findings indicates Yancy had marijuana in his system. The report stated Yancy tested positive for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. The reading was set at .0069 milligrams per liter.
According to the coroner’s report, the cause of death was “agitated behavior associated with marijuana intake needing restraint and other unknown factors.”
Yancy was a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The coroner's report also included information from the Department of Veterans Affairs records. VA records indicated he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, hypertension, alcohol dependence and THC dependence.
There are no new trial dates set as of now. The federal case number is 3:15-cv-00580-JM-PCL.