The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted this week to pay out $1.49 million to the father of an unarmed and reportedly intoxicated, mentally disabled man fatally shot last summer by sheriff’s deputies who mistook him for an armed suspect in a carjacking.
Donnell Thompson Jr., 27, was killed July 28, 2016, in Compton.
A resident called deputies around 5 a.m. to report that a man, later identified as Thompson, was lying in his yard in the 800 block of Stockwell Street and might be injured, according to board documents.
One of Thompson’s hands was “tucked under his body at his waistband” and a deputy radioed that “he may have a gun next to him.”
Because of the search for an armed carjacker on the run in the same neighborhood, a helicopter was overhead and deputies brought in an armored vehicle, fearing that Thompson was lying in wait for them.
Deputies shined spotlights on Thompson and used an amplified public address system to tell him to surrender. They let him know they would provide medical assistance if he was injured, according to deputies. Thompson did not respond.
They fired two rubber bullets, got no response and then fired a third, which prompted Thompson to sit up, deputies said.
When a fourth rubber round hit him in the stomach, Thompson “abruptly jumped up to his feet and ran directly at the armored vehicle,” which was blocking the house.
A deputy in the turret of the armored vehicle fired two rounds from a rifle and killed Thompson about 5:30 a.m.
The deputy “feared that the decedent was armed and attempting to attack him and/or the deputy sheriffs positioned behind the armored vehicle and could possibly continue past them into the occupied residence,” according to the summary prepared for county attorneys.
The Sheriff’s Department ultimately confirmed that Thompson, who was Black, had nothing to do with a carjacking in which another man was arrested in the same neighborhood that day.
Family and friends said in the months following the shooting that Thompson had no criminal record and was a shy and soft-spoken man.
“What the media’s portraying him to be … they don’t know him … they didn’t talk to people who know him,” said Danielle Moore, who attended El Camino College Compton Center with Thompson, who went by the nickname “Bo Peep.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that Thompson attended classes at the college for the mentally disabled.
Thompson’s oldest sister, Matrice Stanley, told reporters her brother’s “mentality was like a 16-year-old.” Stanley, a 44-year-old nurse from Victorville, said she believed that race had played a role in her younger brother’s killing.
“Why would SWAT and dogs have to surround a man” who weighed 130-pounds and stood about 5 feet 3 inches tall, she asked.
Asked why he might have rushed at deputies, Stanley said, “He would be scared, of course.”
In a corrective action plan, officials stated that an autopsy showed that Thompson was heavily intoxicated, which may have been a factor in why he didn’t respond to deputies.
As of the date of the corrective action plan, July 7, 2017, investigations into potential criminal or administrative misconduct were ongoing.
The Sheriff’s Department distributed a newsletter in June to all employees to recommend clearly stating “what is actually seen” rather than communicating assumptions about a weapon to other deputies on scene. As in, “I see a dark-colored object in the shape of a rectangle on the ground next to the suspect.” A video on the topic is expected to be produced and distributed by the end of the year.