Advocacy Groups Call for Change After DeeDee Hall's Death in Dallas Police Custody

At a June 15 vigil, Hall's family and other community members gathered at the place she was detained by police to remember and honor her life
At a June 15 vigil, Hall's family and other community members gathered at the place she was detained by police to remember and honor her life Daniel Barrera with Texas Organizing Project
It started with a disturbance call to 911 over someone experiencing a mental health crisis and ended up with the May 26 death of Dee Dee Hall, a Black trans woman who was restrained and placed in a spit hood by the Dallas Police Department.

Now, advocacy groups are calling for change.

Earlier this week, Anthony Lazon, the founder of Dallas for Change, spoke to the Community Police Oversight Board and urged Dallas PD to ban the use of spit hoods, which are fabric sacks officers sometimes place on people's heads to prevent spitting or biting. Although they are meant to be breathable, spit hoods have been the subject of controversy and lawsuits in the past.

"Dee Dee Hall should be alive today," Lazon told the board. "What I saw in that video was a woman who needed help, a woman who needed compassion and a community member that needed humanity."

Lazon said that Hall's death could have been prevented had "the people who are meant to render aid and to serve and protect her, wouldn't have villainized her and disregarded all signs of the stress."

On Wednesday night, more 70 people attended a vigil to honor Hall outside the Dallas car lot where she was initially detained.

The incident occurred after an employee of Katz Automotive called 911 stating that Hall was causing a disturbance.

According to a briefing published on YouTube with Deputy Chief Terrence Rhodes of the Dallas PD Criminals Investigations Bureau, the employee said Hall appeared to be under the influence of some sort of drug or alcohol because she was yelling and falling down.

From the body camera police footage, which was released 13 days after the incident, Hall was at first calmly answering the officer’s questions. But she later became distressed and was handcuffed facedown on the ground by officers.

“They keep pushing me down, you understand me,” Hall says in the video.

She was eventually put on a stretcher with a spit hood over her head then placed in an ambulance to be taken to Baylor University Medical Center.

She lost vital signs on the way to the hospital and was pronounced dead at 2:05 p.m. On Thursday, the Dallas County Medical Examiner's Office told the Observer that Hall's cause of death had not yet been determined, explaining that they are waiting on toxicology and histology results.

Hall’s family joined other Dallas residents and members from the Texas Organizing Project (TOP), also known as Organize Texas, on Wednesday to remember her life.

"This is not a case that should be swept under the rug." - David Villalobos, Texas Organizing Project

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Hall’s family said she had mental health challenges, but a press release from the TOP stated that while Hall was in a panicked mental state, she needed and deserved a more humane response. Instead, she was pinned down for more than seven minutes and had a spit hood placed on her head in the summer heat.

David Villalobos, the statewide campaign coordinator for TOP, said that Hall was a person that would always be there for her family no matter what the circumstance, and that they wanted to make sure they honored her life at the vigil and showed solidarity with the community.

“This is not a case that should be swept under the rug,” said Villalobos. “We wanted to make sure to call attention to the injustice … [and] to make sure that we also called out the callousness and unprofessionalism shown by first responders that day and how completely unacceptable it was.”

Two of the paramedics who were on the scene have subsequently had their credentials suspended pending investigation.

The Movement for Black Lives, In Defense of Black Lives, Dallas Action and Dallas Against Racist and Political Repression are other organizations that joined Hall’s family and the TOP in hosting the vigil, all of which are calling for the Dallas PD to remove itself from the investigation so it may be conducted by an independent entity.

The Dallas PD has not responded to the Observer's request for comment.
Villalobos said that the officers should have called the RIGHT Care Team, or Rapid Integrated Group Healthcare Team, which includes behavioral health professional equipped to respond to mental health situations.

“That’s not the type of policing that should happen when it was just a disruption,” Villalobos said. “If you look at the video and how they were ridiculing Dee Dee Hall, at some point it just goes beyond unprofessionalism.”

Villalobos said that the group believes this to be a police brutality case, but that the vigil was helpful in bringing together the community and opening a dialogue about the policy changes that are needed.

“It was a very emotional but powerful space where people spoke about Dee Dee, people spoke about other injustices,” Villalobos said. “Just to have a space to talk about all this, and almost using it as a healing space, I think was really helpful for the family and helpful for community members who have seen this time and time again.”

Others have also spoken out over the circumstances surrounding Hall's death.

Brandon Friedman, who sits on the police oversight board, said on Twitter that he's calling for body camera footage of such incidents to be released within three days. "When a critical incident occurs — like an officer-involved shooting or a death in custody — someone with oversight authority needs to see the bodyworn camera footage within 72 hours," he wrote.

Last March, Marvin Scott III, a 26-year-old Black man, was strapped to a restraining table, pepper sprayed and put in a spit hood after being arrested outside a shopping center in Allen. Scott died, and the Collin County Medical Examiner’s office later ruled it a homicide. The Collin County Sheriffs Department didn't release video footage of the incident for months.

In August 2016, Tony Timpa, a 32-year-old man experiencing a mental health crisis, also died in Dallas police custody. Officers had pinned down Timpa for some 14 minutes. The Dallas Morning News obtained and published the body camera footage in 2019 after a three-year legal battle with the city.
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Kate Pezzulli, an editorial fellow for the Observer, is a graduate student at the Mayborn School of Journalism at UNT. Besides storytelling, she likes sailing, working on Jeeps, camping, potting and baking. Voted No. 1 friend in an apocalypse.
Contact: Kate Pezzulli