At first, officials had identified 27-year-old Donnell Thompson as a suspect in a carjacking.
Now the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department released a statement earlier this week acknowledging that Thompson, who was fatally shot during an encounter with police last month, was actually innocent, the Huffington Post notes.
“We have determined that there is no evidence that Mr. Thompson was in the carjacked vehicle, nor that he was involved in the assault on the deputies,” the department said in a statement on Tuesday.
The incident occurred in the early morning hours of July 28. Officials were searching for a carjacking suspect who had crashed a stolen car in a neighborhood in Compton before firing at deputies. The carjacking suspect was successfully arrested.
However, the Washington Post notes, shortly after that arrest, a man who lived just a few blocks away called 911 explaining to dispatchers that as he was taking out his trash he saw someone lying in his front yard.
Although authorities had the suspect, identified as 24-year-old Robert Alexander, in custody, apparently there was some confusion over whether he was the carjacker.
A deputy responding to the call saw the man, who seemed to resemble the carjacking suspect – a black man between the ages of 20 and 30, wearing dark pants or shorts and a basketball jersey – and called in for backup. Armored vehicles quickly responded to the deputy’s call.
According to officials, Thompson did not respond to commands, remaining still with one hand under his head and another by his waist. Capt. Steve Katz claimed something that resembled a gun lay nearby. Law enforcement deployed flash-bang explosives which also failed to wake up Thompson, before Swat deputies shot him with foam bullets.
Katz said that Thompson suddenly pushed himself to his feet and charged toward an armored vehicle. An officer in the vehicle’s turret shot Thompson twice in the upper torso with an M4 assault rifle, the Post notes. No weapons were recovered from the scene.
“No question this is a terribly devastating event,” Katz said at a news conference promising a “thorough” and “complete” investigation.
Thompson’s relatives however, are outraged by the incident.
“I wouldn’t treat an animal this bad,” his sister, Matrice Stanley, told the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the Associated Press reports. “How is this justifiable?”
Family members described Thompson as gentle and shy, so much that his nickname was Little Bo Peep. He attended classes for the mentally disabled at El Camino College’s Compton Center, where he also liked to play Uno.
Stanley told the Los Angeles Times that although Thompson’s age was 27, “mentally…he was probably 16.”
Brian Dunn, an attorney representing the family, slammed the Sheriff’s Department for what he said was a series of “tactical blunders” that led to the shooting that was clearly a “mistake,” HuffPo notes.
“We’ve done our own investigation and have not heard anything to suggest that Donnell Thompson was in any way acting in an aggressive manner or in any way demonstrating that he posed a threat to anyone,” Dunn told HuffPo. “He hadn’t committed a crime, he was not wanted, he had not done anything wrong, he was legally authorized to be where he was, he was legally authorized to be doing what he was doing, he wasn’t breaking the law and he wasn’t armed ― when you take that backdrop of facts it’s just not only a tragedy, but it’s a homicide, in every sense of the word.”
Dunn also slammed the use of an armored vehicle in the situation.
“In a civilian neighborhood, they bring an urban assault vehicle,” Dunn said. “the BearCat, it’s like a tank. Their response to this situation was so aggressive. Their tactics were so aggressive.”
The attorney has since filed a federal civil rights claim against Los Angeles County, and said that a lawsuit was forthcoming.
According to HuffPo, the still-unidentified deputy has been reassigned to non-field duties as an investigation continues into the shooting.
“Black lives matter,” another sister, Antoinette Brown, said according to the Post. “I just want justice for my baby brother.”