WATCH: Federal Judge Finds Harris County Deputy Used Excessive Force in 18-Year-Old’s Death

A federal judge ruled Monday that the civil case brought by the parents of an 18-year-old they say was killed by excessive force from a Harris County deputy can move forward, but he threw out claims against Sheriff Mike Jolley and three deputies.

Nicholas Dyksma died nearly three years ago after then-Harris County sheriff’s deputy Tommy Pierson pinned him to the pavement and used his knee to apply compression to Nicholas’s neck — once for a period of 20 seconds while Nicholas was being handcuffed and searched, and later for a period of 17 seconds after Nicholas was handcuffed, physically incapacitated, and no longer resisting, according to the federal suit filed by Greg and Tammy Dyksma last year on behalf of their son’s estate.

In ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Clay Land determined that Pierson used excessive force.

The fundamental issue for the plaintiffs “Fourth Amendment excessive force claim against Pierson is whether he violated clearly established law when he used potentially deadly force (knee to the neck) after Nicholas was handcuffed, fully restrained, and physically incapacitated,” Land wrote in the 32-page order. “As explained in the remainder of this order, the Court finds that he did.”

Jolley was sued based on his supervisory role as sheriff, while deputies Joe Harmon, Heath Dawson and William Sturdevant were named because the suit claimed they failed to stop the use of excessive force.

“The Court further finds, however, that the other deputies did not violate clearly established law when they failed to intervene during Pierson’s application of this clearly excessive force,” Land wrote.

As for Jolley, the decision was similar.

The plaintiffs “did not point to sufficient evidence to create a genuine factual dispute on whether he participated in or had a policy that caused Pierson’s excessive force,” Land ruled.

The Dyksmas’ attorney, Craig T. Jones of Washington, Ga., called Land’s ruling a victory.

“The essential claim is still intact,” Jones said. “And the county has a couple of million dollars of insurance to resolve it.”

Terry E. Williams of Buford, Ga., the attorney representing Pierson, Jolley and the other three deputies, did not respond to a request for comment.

Jones expects Pierson’s attorneys to appeal the decision to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, meaning a trial could still be more than a year away.

Pierson is insured by the Harris County insurance policy with Association of County Commissioners of Georgia, a shared risk pool, Jones said.

About 1:30 a.m. on Aug. 31, 2015, Columbus police and emergency medical personnel responded to the Circle K on Airport Thruway to the report of a person slumped over the steering wheel of a truck. As officers attempted to check on the man, Dyksma started the truck and left the store. He was on U.S. 27 headed toward Harris County as Columbus police gave chase for about 10 miles.

Harris County deputies joined the chase. Pierson saw the truck and turned on the blue lights on his patrol vehicle. The chase ended after “stop sticks” were deployed and Pierson and Harmon were able to use their vehicles to box the truck in and force it off the road.

Attorneys for Nicholas Dyksma’s estate and his parents obtained Harris Country dash cam video that showed the take down of Dyksma using a Taser, then force to get him into custody.

“The present record includes a video recording of the incident, and in determining whether there is a genuine fact dispute, the Court must view ‘the facts in the light depicted by the video’ and may not adopt a version of the facts that is ‘utterly discredited’ by the video,” Land wrote.

The video clearly showed Pierson applying pressure with his knee to Dyksma’s neck. As autopsy revealed that Dyksman had “acute methamphetamine intoxication.”

Dr. Natasha Grandhi, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation pathologist, performed an autopsy on Dyksma and concluded it was a homicide.

She listed the following causes: “Sudden death during an altercation with law enforcement, after deployment of an electroconductive device, with prone positioning, compression of the neck and torso, and acute methamphetamine intoxication.”

Pierson is no longer employed by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and is serving time in state prison on an unrelated incident.
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