‘Mushroomed’ Bullet Focus of Investigation of Fatal Shooting : Violence: Sources deny report that four slugs were found beneath the body of a woman killed by police on hospital rooftop.


Investigators probing the fatal shooting by police of a woman on a hospital rooftop are focusing on at least one bullet that “mushroomed” inside the woman’s body, a phenomenon that can indicate a person was shot while lying down, but also can be caused by other conditions, sources said Thursday.

Those same sources, however, vehemently denied a report in Wednesday’s San Gabriel Valley Tribune, which stated that four slugs were found on the ground beneath the body of the woman, Sonji Danese Taylor, 27.

If that were true, it would strongly suggest that Taylor was shot while lying on the ground, but several sources familiar with the investigation said the newspaper report was incorrect.


“I was there when they rolled the body over,” said one source involved in the investigation. “There were no slugs found beneath her.”

That account was confirmed by officials from two different agencies examining the Taylor shooting.

Forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht, a renowned medical examiner from Pittsburgh, was quoted by the San Gabriel paper as saying that the shooting sounded “savage and barbaric” and that finding four bullets beneath the body would strongly suggest that Taylor was lying down when the officers fired those shots.

But Thursday, Wecht stressed that he had only made those comments based on information supplied to him by the San Gabriel paper, not on official investigative documents.

The actual coroner’s report, Wecht said, contained no information indicating that Taylor was shot while lying down.

“From the trajectories and the reports, I could not say whether she was standing, falling down, kneeling or anything else,” Wecht said.


Taylor received 10 gunshot wounds in the Dec. 16 shooting, seven of them in the back. That fact has sparked the interest of at least three investigative agencies--the LAPD, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office and the FBI. None of the investigations are complete, but the district attorney already has convened a grand jury, which has taken sworn testimony from five police officers and several other witnesses to the shooting.

As they probe the circumstances of Taylor’s death, investigators are focusing on one bullet that “mushroomed” inside her body and another that may have, sources said. A bullet generally mushrooms, or flattens out, when it hits a hard object as it is slowing down.

One explanation for the bullets mushrooming could be that Taylor was on the ground when those shots struck her in the back of the shoulder, investigators said. But another explanation could be that the bullets struck bones--most likely either in her shoulder or rib cage.

Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., the lawyer for Taylor’s family, has not suggested that Taylor was shot while lying down, but he has said that at least one witness to the shooting will cast doubt on the Police Department’s contention that Taylor lunged toward the officers.