Crime & Justice

Man fatally shot by deputies was not carjacking suspect

FILE: An officer from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department guards an intersection outside the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in L.A. on Feb. 8, 2013.
FILE: An officer from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department guards an intersection outside the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in L.A. on Feb. 8, 2013.
Christopher Okula/KPCC

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The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Tuesday walked back claims that an unarmed black man deputies shot and killed last month in Compton was a carjacking suspect.

Donnell Thompson, 27, died on July 28 after a deputy with the sheriff's Special Enforcement Bureau shot him with a high-powered rifle from an armored car. 

Originally, sheriff's officials said Thompson was a carjacking suspect who had possibly shot at deputies earlier that morning. Tuesday, Sheriff's Captain Steve Katz said they shot the wrong man. 

Teams of deputies had swarmed the Compton neighborhood around the 800 block of Stockwell Street searching for a man or men who had carjacked a vehicle, led deputies on a chase, and shot at deputies as they ran away.

Just as deputies were taking  into custody one suspect, who they found hiding under bed sheets in a house, dispatchers received a 911 call of a man lying in a nearby yard. 

It was 5:23am when about 20 deputies and two armored vehicles with the Special Enforcement Team surrounded Thompson and tried to rouse him with a bullhorn and then rubber bullets. 

“Ultimately, when the last of those rounds was fired and struck him, Mr. Thompson, in what was described as a push up, pushed himself off the ground,” said Katz. “He looked in the direction of one of those armored vehicles, and then ran in the direction of the other armored vehicle.”

A Special Enforcement Bureau deputy positioned in a turret atop one of the armored cars fired two bullets from his M4 rifle—the equivalent of an M16—killing Thompson from about 20 to 30 feet away. 

"You have to remember we are talking about a rapidly evolving event where deputies have been shot at and returned fire. So there is a lot going on,” said Katz.

Thompson was unarmed. Tuesday, sheriff's officials said DNA and gunshot residue from the carjacked vehicle has now led investigators to conclude Thompson was not involved in the carjacking or shooting at deputies. 

Katz said deputies on the scene at the time didn't have that evidence. 

“I don’t want to make excuses,” he added. “That’s certainly not what I am doing. What I am describing to you is the circumstances as they were unfolding."

More than a dozen of Thompson’s family members and friends showed up at a meeting of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors Tuesday to denounce the killing.

“I miss my baby brother. I’m hurt,” one of Thompson’s sisters, Anonette Brown, said through tears. “He was very kind, he was kind-hearted.”

Another sister, Matrice Stanley, called for the deputy who killed her brother to be fired.

She described Thompson as having been placed in special classes in school and having the the mental acuity of a 16-year-old. The 27-year-old lived with his father and grandfather, she said. 

“You could talk to him for a whole hour on the phone, he would say two words,” Stanley said. “He probably didn’t know what was going on. He was scared. He was frightened.”

The shooting is under review by the sheriff’s department, Office of the Inspector General, and Los Angeles County District Attorney.

This story has been updated.