Prosecutors in Fairfax County, Virginia, were granted permission Monday to drop misdemeanor charges and instead seek to secure an indictment against a police officer who used a stun gun on a man he mistakenly thought he recognized.
Tyler Timberlake, who is white, used a stun gun on a Black man, who was disoriented and did not appear combative, on June 5 in the Mount Vernon section of Fairfax County. In announcing his arrest, police released body camera video of the incident.
In his first court appearance Monday, Timberlake stood over his attorney’s shoulder, wearing a black face mask to protect against COVID-19, as did everyone in the courtroom, except the judge and attorneys as they spoke.
Deputy Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Frank told District Court Judge Susan Stoney he was requesting to drop the charges in district court, and would seek an indictment, which would have the case decided by a jury in circuit court.
“We want to make sure the people of Fairfax County have the opportunity to be heard,” as jury members, Frank said. In district court, the judge hears testimony, sees evidence and issues a verdict.
Frank did not disclose in court whether prosecutors would ask the grand jury to indict Timberlake on different charges than the current ones. Previously, Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano said with the three assault and battery counts, Timberlake faced a maximum of three years behind bars.
Before Stoney issued her ruling, defense attorney Edward Nuttall said prosecutors and police had rushed to arrest the officer — even scheduling a news conference before an arrest warrant had been issued for Timberlake.
The incident involving Timberlake happened amid heated protests and calls for police reform, in the wake of the death of a Black man, George Floyd, under the knee of a white Minneapolis officer.
Nuttall said prosecutors and police went to extraordinary lengths to arrest Timberlake — “the quickest obtaining of warrants I’ve seen in 23 years.”
Frank disputed the characterization that Timberlake’s arrest was sped up because he’s an officer.
”If [the man who was shocked] had assaulted a police officer, he would have been picked up immediately. The defense believes this is different, because Mr. Timberlake is an officer,” said Frank.
Stoney ruled prosecutors had shown good cause to drop the misdemeanors.
On June 9, in the first hearing after Timberlake’s arrest, defense attorney Brandon Shapiro and Frank agreed that Timberlake used the nonlethal weapon on the wrong man.
In police video, Timberlake is seen arriving on the scene and walking directly from his cruiser toward the man, who had declined requests from emergency personnel to get in an ambulance.
Immediately after using his stun gun, the officer is heard repeatedly addressing the man as “Anthony.” But the person Timberlake was on top of was not named Anthony.
“He mistook him for someone else,” Frank told Stoney during the June 9 hearing.
Shapiro said the man his client believed was Anthony, and the person he mistakenly shocked, both had extensive criminal records, including felonies.
“They’re saying this was an irrational act,” Shapiro said, adding that Timberlake’s belief of who he was dealing with “is important to the defense.”
In the June 9 hearing, the defense was granted additional footage recorded before, during and after the incident, including cruiser video and Timberlake’s body-worn camera.
The details of Timberlake’s utterances and actions recorded by his camera have not been disclosed at this point.
Timberlake has been free on his own recognizance since his arrest.
Editor’s note: Corrects name of defense counsel in July 13 hearing.