After six weeks of insisting the man killed in a pre-dawn raid was a suspect in a carjacking, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department this week reversed course and admitted they gunned down an innocent man.
On July 28, the department was using armored vehicles and a SWAT team armed with assault weapons to search a neighborhood in Compton, Calif., for a man who had stolen a car and exchanged gunfire with police officers before going on the run. They found and arrested the suspect, but then received a 911 call from a resident of the neighborhood who reported seeing an unknown man lying in his front yard.
The department responded in force.
When the unknown man didn't respond to verbal commands, deputies set off flash bang grenades and fired rubber bullets at him. When he rose from the ground and allegedly ran towards the deputies, a deputy sitting in the turret of one of the heavily armored cars fired, killing Donnell Thompson.
Thompson, a 27-year old black man, suffered from mental disabilities. He had nothing to do with the carjacking. He wasn't armed and had not committed a crime.
Even so, the Sheriff's Department spent weeks saying they had reason to believe Thompson was a second suspect in the carjacking incident. After an internal investigation and facing pressure from Thompson's family, the department admitted their mistake this week.
A statement issued by the Sheriff's Department on Tuesday said there was "no evidence that Mr. Thompson was in the carjacked vehicle, nor that he was involved in the assault on the deputies."
At a press conference, Capt. Steve Katz called the incident a "terribly devastating event."
According to the Los Angeles Times, the department conducted an internal review of the shooting after Thompson's family protested the shooting at a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting. His family described him as a "harmless man who had never been in legal trouble," and wanted charges filed against the officer who pulled the trigger, the paper reported.
"I wouldn't treat an animal this bad," his sister Matrice Stanley told the board, according to the AP. "How is this justifiable?"
Brian Dunn, an attorney representing the Thompson family, told the Huffington Post that the Sheriff's Department's response to the incident was inappropriate.
"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 department says an investigation into the shooting is still ongoing and the officer who killed Thompson—who has not been identified publically—has been reassigned to non-field duty.