The parents of Nicholas Tanner Dyksma have filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against four Harris County sheriff’s deputies 18 months after their son was stunned with a Taser and pulled from his Toyota pickup truck in August 2015.
Attorney Craig Jones of the Orlando Firm in Decatur, Ga., is seeking a jury trial for an amount to be determined by jurors in the death of Dyksma, 18, in the suit filed in Columbus on Feb. 14. Greg and Tammy Dyksma, parents of the teen, are plaintiffs in the suit that names Sgt. Joe Harmon, and deputies Tommy Pierson, Heath Dawson and William Sturdevant as defendants in their capacities as employees of the Harris County Sheriff ‘s Office.
A dash-cam video recently released shows deputies pulling Dyksma out of his truck and to the ground. He is cuffed and there is a deputy with a knee on the teen’s back. The deputies later realized the teen was unresponsive and tried to revive him.
Jones said the teen died of compressional asphyxiation after the deputies pinned him down to the ground and obstructed his airway after a high-speed chase started in Columbus after officers observed the teen sleeping in his pickup truck. Deputies violated the teen’s Fourth Amendment by using deadly force, standing by and failing to intercede to prevent other deputies from killing Dyksma, the suit claims.
“Their defense is they didn’t mean to kill him,” Jones said Friday. “In this day and time, they ought to know that, that kind of thing can happen. It happens enough times and they are actually trained not to do choke holds anymore. I don’t think they meant to kill him but I do think they meant to do what they did. They just didn’t think it was going to kill him. They should have known but didn’t realize it.”
Harris County Manager Randy Dowling was contacted about the lawsuit but he wasn’t available for comment Friday afternoon.
The teen, who is a Northside High School graduate, was first observed in the truck by Columbus police officers who were called to the Circle K at 2536 Airport Thruway about 1:46 a.m. to check on a suspicious person. The teen was slumped over the steering wheel.
Officers didn’t get a response from the driver at first. Then, he suddenly started up the truck and sped away with the officers in pursuit. Harris County deputies were informed about the chase on Highway 27 and were prepared to assume the chase if it continued into the county.
Columbus officers stopped chasing the truck at the county line. Harris County deputies spotted the pickup near Holland Road and Highway 27. The truck was traveling up to 85 mph before they deployed Stop Stick devices to flatten the truck tires.
Deputies were able to stop the truck after it hit one of the patrol vehicles. That’s when a deputy busted out the window and stunned the teen once with a Taser. He was pulled from the vehicle and deputies realized Dyksma breathing was shallow.
From the video, Jones said it looks like one of the deputies was doing all the mashing on the teen’s neck. A cooler head should have prevailed at that moment. “If anyone one of those other officers said hey, that is enough , stop it, he is not breathing,” Jones said. “If anyone of the other three had intervened, they could have saved him.”
All the deputies didn’t put a knee on the teen but Jones said he holds them all responsible. “As far as we can tell from the video, some others you can’t see what’s going on behind their backs,” Jones said. “They are definitely holding him down. The argument is that they are either participants in using excessive force or failed to intervene to stop fellow officers from using excessive force. I’m basically saying they all should be held accountable.”
Jones said he has identified Pierson as the officer with the knee on the teen. “In his report, he said he put his knee on the upper back after the guy was handcuffed,” he said. “There was no call for it. At that point they should have just put him in the car.”
Jones said the lawsuit is the first step in the legal process. The suit may get to the court in two or three years.