It was not yet dawn when the armored vehicles, black and hulking like Batmobiles, rumbled into the residential neighborhood in Compton, Calif. A carjacker had stolen a vehicle in Los Angeles, exchanged gunfire with sheriff’s deputies and then ditched his prize, disappearing on foot into a dense patchwork quilt of pink houses.
The armored vehicles — and the heavily armed deputies inside them — were there to find and capture the armed carjacker.
Instead, they found a different black man, Donnell Thompson.
As the carjacker hid in a house several blocks away, Mr. Thompson slept in a stranger’s yard. He was 27 years old but possessed the mental faculties of a much younger man. He loved Uno, Michael Jackson and the Lakers. He was so gentle and shy he went by the nickname Little Bo Peep, his family told the Los Angeles Times. He had a clean record and was unarmed.
From inside one of the armored vehicles, however, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies knew none of this. When Mr. Thompson didn’t respond to commands, the deputies detonated flash-bangs. When he still didn’t move, they hit him with foam bullets.
And when he allegedly ran towards them, a deputy atop the armored vehicle opened fire with an assault rifle, striking Mr. Thompson twice in the torso.
Mr. Thompson died. At almost the same instant, the real carjacker was arrested.
That was July 28. For almost two weeks, the Sheriff’s Department insisted that Mr. Thompson was a second suspect in the carjacking.
On Tuesday, the department admitted it had killed an innocent man.
“No question this is a terribly devastating event,” Capt. Steve Katz said during a press conference. He said there was “no physical evidence” connecting Mr. Thompson to the carjacking or shootout and promised a “thorough” and “complete” investigation into the shooting, according to The Associated Press.
Mr. Thompson’s relatives said they wanted more than an investigation, however. They wanted charges for the deputy who killed Mr. Thompson.
“I wouldn’t treat an animal this bad,” his sister Matrice Stanley told the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, according to the AP. “How is this justifiable?”
The incident is the latest in a string of fatal officer-involved shootings of black men across America. As in the recent police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., the shooting in Compton has prompted accusations of racial profiling and excessive force.
Ms. Stanley said she thought her brother’s race played a role in the shooting.
The incident also raises questions about the militarization of law enforcement, as departments across the country increasingly use armored vehicles and assault rifles to fight crime.
“In a civilian neighborhood, they bring an urban assault vehicle,” Brian Dunn, an attorney representing the Thompson family, told the Huffington Post. “The BearCat, it’s like a tank. Their response to this situation was so aggressive. Their tactics were so aggressive.”
The tragedy began in the early hours of July 28 when Robert Alexander, 24, allegedly stole a Honda Civic in Los Angeles, taking the car at gunpoint from its owner.
Fifteen miles to the south, in Compton, a sheriff’s deputy later spotted the Civic traveling erratically and decided to pull it over, according to the Los Angeles Times. The license plate showed the car was stolen. As a second patrol car arrived, the Civic drove off, punching through an elementary school’s fence.
Source: The Washington Post | Michael E. Miller