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Two years before George Floyd pleaded with a Minneapolis police officer to remove his knee from his neck, Timothy Coffman screamed out for help while he was pinned face down on the ground in Florida—his ankles tied while officers used the same move to restrain him.
Coffman, a 36-year-old who struggled with mental illness, was beaten with a baton and tased several times before two South Daytona officers pressed their knees into his back and neck for more than four minutes on June 28, 2018, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday in the Middle District of Florida.
He lost consciousness during the arrest, and four days later, he died from a traumatic brain injury, the lawsuit states.
His death was later declared a homicide, but the officers involved were never charged for the incident, which was caught on video.
“I never watched my son’s video nor do I ever want to—but I saw George’s,” Kimberly Mitchell, Timothy’s mother, said during a Thursday press conference announcing the lawsuit against the South Daytona Police Department. “Until George Floyd, I thought [Timothy] wouldn’t have any justice. We need justice. We need change. We need help.”
On Thursday, civil-rights attorney Ben Crump—who is also representing the family of George Floyd—filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city of South Daytona, the four officers involved, and the chief of police. The lawsuit alleges that authorities used excessive force against the unarmed white man. Crump added that Coffman’s family is also demanding the Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigate the incident because his family deserves a “full, fair investigation.”
“It is eerily similar to what happened to George Floyd and what happened to Timothy Coffman,” Crump said. “Like George Floyd, Timothy Coffman screamed out for help while he was faced down on the ground. Like George Floyd, Timothy Coffman had a police officer put his knee in his neck for four minutes until he lost consciousness.”
“And like George Floyd, the police in South Daytona did not offer him any dignity, nor did they offer him any respect, nor did they offer him any humanity,” he added.
The incident began on June 28 at around 7 a.m., when a 911 call was placed to the South Daytona Police Department about “a man that seemed off.”
Coffman struggled with mental illness—including bipolar disorder and schizophrenia—and had begun to self-medicate and “abuse drugs” at that time. His mental-health issues were known to the police and the community, the lawsuit states.
“He had committed no crime. What he needed was a helping hand—but what he got was a deadly knee,” Crump said.
The lawsuit states that four South Daytona police officers—David McCallister, Taylor Sanderson, Clay Treat, and Sgt. Brian Craig—responded to Coffman’s neighborhood. Treat then exited his car and began to chase Coffman as he ran away from the cops.
“Fuck you, you are not the real police,” Coffman told Treat, according to an arrest report obtained by The Daily Beast.
As Coffman ran, Treat hit him several times with a Taser that shoots out metal prongs.
“The metal prongs struck his body and he was forced to rip those prongs out and kept running from police all the while screaming for help—help from any bystander that witnessed the brutality that was happening to him,” Jasmine Rand, one of the family’s attorneys, said Thursday.
According to the arrest report, Coffman ran to a nearby residence, where the garage door was open and a person was sitting inside. Coffman “asked the resident for help because the police were chasing him,” but the individual told him to leave his property.
Desperate, Coffman tried to open the doors of several other nearby homes before he “obtained a plastic pump pesticide bottle that he did not have permission to have and later sprayed officers that were trying” to arrest him.
When Treat caught up to Coffman, the lawsuit alleges that he began to “beat him with batons” before forcing him to the ground, the lawsuit states. The four officers then restrained Coffman’s hands behind his back and tied his ankles together—before one officer put his knee on his back and another forcefully placed two knees on his neck.
The arrest report alleges Coffman kicked Sanderson and tried to bite McCallister's left ring “finger off.” In response, the officers put their “full force” on Coffman’s neck and back for four minutes while the 36-year-old pleaded for help—until he lost consciousness, the lawsuit states. According to body camera footage, the officers attempted to ask Coffman questions, but he was “unresponsive and motionless.”
“Come on, bud, stay with me. Stay with me!” one of the officers can be heard telling Coffman in the body-camera footage. Coffman’s face had turned blue at that time, and “it was obvious that he was clearly hypoxic,” the documents state.
The four officers never attempted to perform CPR, or any other life saving measures on him, according to the lawsuit. At around 7:19 a.m—three minutes after Coffman became unresponsive—the officers attempted to administer two rounds of Narcan, which was unsuccessful at reviving him. About 13 minutes later, South Daytona EMTs arrived on the scene, and one of the officers can be heard saying “he’s going downhill quick, man.”
The arrest reports from the four officers do not mention the four minutes Coffman’s neck and back were pinned to the ground—and only indicate that he went limp when they tried to turn him over.
In Sgt. Craig’s report, he noted Coffman had “labored breathing and his temperature was now cold to the touch” before EMTs arrived.
The lawsuit states that the officers did not remove Coffman’s handcuffs until one minute before the EMTs arrived, and only started to perform CPR when they heard sirens approaching.
Coffman never regained consciousness, suffering from a traumatic brain injury from “deprivation of oxygen,” and died at a local hospital four days later. Rand stated that like so many Americans, “Timothy couldn’t breathe.”
According to the medical examiner’s report obtained by The Daily Beast, Coffman had 14 difficult drugs in his system at the time of his death—including fentanyl, methamphetamine, adderall, and anti-anxiety medication.
The report confirms the chief medical examiner ruled Coffman’s death a homicide. It states that he died from complications of methamphetamine toxicity, and that physical restraint was a contributory factor.
“Removing life support from him, I still can’t even believe it,” Mitchell said through tears on Thursday. “I want justice and I want reform... just a change in the culture. I want there to be help, we need mental health help and we need a conversation and it needs to be funded—like yesterday.”
The lawsuit alleges Coffman’s death is just one tragedy in the South Daytona Police Department’s “long history and pattern... of using excessive force on citizens.” Mark J. Cheatham, the chief of police for the South Daytona Police Department is also accused in the lawsuit of “condoning” this pattern of violent behavior.
Cheatham told The Daily Beast “at this time I’m not authorized to provide comment because of the pending civil litigation.”
The four officers, according to the lawsuit, had also not been properly trained in de-escalation techniques and non-lethal uses of force that would have been crucial during the 2018 incident.
According to a July 2018 “Use of Force Staff Review” report obtained by The Daily Beast, it was determined the the force used by the officers “was necessary to control the actions of Mr. Coffman.” The review, which was conducted by three staffers, including Cheatham, claims that the four officers demonstrated standards that comply with the South Daytona police directives.
A spokesperson for the Office of the State Attorney declined The Daily Beast’s request for comment, but stated they are standing by a October 2018 letter following an investigation into Coffman’s death. It is not immediately clear if any disciplinary action was taken against the officers, but no charges were ever brought in the 2018 incident.
“Based on a review of the investigation and the information provided, no further action is warranted by this office,” State Attorney R.J. Larizza wrote in the October 29, 2018 letter.