On Christmas Day, David Nicholson Jr. dropped off presents for his son and daughter at the South L.A. apartment where they lived with their mother.
For D’Vine, 4, he brought a doll set; for Dayvon, 6, a skateboard, walkie-talkies, a Nerf gun and a playsuit of body armor. His daughter was there, Nicholson said, but Dayvon wasn’t. His mother said he was with a man she called “Coach Ty.”
On Thursday, Dayvon’s mother called the boy’s grandparents to tell them he was at the hospital, unable to breathe. Nicholson raced to St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach, where a police officer took him aside and told him Dayvon had died.
“My heart just fell,” Nicholson said in an interview with The Times on Saturday. “I couldn’t breathe. No matter how many kids you got, it’s a piece of you.”
The Los Angeles County Coroner ruled Dayvon’s death a homicide.
Tyler D’Shaun Martin-Brand, 23, a friend of the boy’s mother and a supervisor for a Los Angeles Unified School District after-school program, was arrested Thursday by Downey police in connection with Dayvon’s death. He is being held in lieu of $2-million bail.
“This case is a serious and complex investigation,” Downey police said in a statement, “and investigators are still in the process of gathering information, interviewing witnesses and processing evidence. As a result, no other details will be released at this time.”
When he was at the hospital, Nicholson said he was not allowed to touch his son’s body, which was laced with tubes and propped up with a neck brace, “because the body was evidence and they didn’t want it tampered with.” He wasn’t allowed closer than 10 feet, but even from that distance, Nicholson said, he could see lacerations on the boy’s chest, possibly from a belt.
The family said they are devastated by the loss of a little boy who was beloved by his many cousins and classmates. They said he was a ball of energy who liked to play the online video game Fortnite. He was also sharp, his father said, capable of carrying on conversations with adults.
“You wouldn’t believe he was 6 years old, how smart he is,” Nicholson said.
He said he first heard over the summer that his son was spending time with “Coach Ty.” Nicholson said he had separated from Dayvon’s mother about four years ago and she complained he “needed a father figure, he needed somebody to teach him to be a man, and that’s why he’s with the coach,” Nicholson recalled. “I kept hearing coach this, coach that. I was like, ‘Who is this guy? Why is he spending time with my son?’”
Martin-Brand is a program supervisor for the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Beyond the Bell after-school program, a district spokeswoman said in an email to The Times on Saturday.
Dayvon’s family said Martin-Brand worked at Normandie Avenue Elementary, where Dayvon was in the first grade. They said they are disturbed that the man accused of killing Dayvon worked among children, and they want to know “whether this man was hurting any other kids,” said the boy’s grandfather, David Nicholson Sr.
“The truth better all come out,” he said.
Nicholson said social workers removed his daughter from her mother’s care and that she is staying with him. He said he never met Martin-Brand and does not know whether he was the boyfriend of Dayvon’s mother or just a friend. Downey police described Martin-Brand as her “acquaintance.”
Nicholson said Dayvon’s mother made it more difficult for them to visit together. He said he saw Dayvon less frequently as the summer rolled by but that the boy did attend his grandparents’ July 4 bash at their South L.A. home.
He wonders if he somehow failed his son.
“It’s like, where did I fall off?” Nicholson said. “Even though I know damn well I did all I could. It’s unbearable. I might look like I’m cool, like I’m calm, but deep down I’m burning. It’s burning down there.”
Nicholson was standing outside his parents’ home by a chain-link fence adorned with Christmas decorations. Friends stopped by to hug him and offer their condolences.
Inside, Dayvon’s grandfather had fastened a black ribbon to the boy’s stocking. Dayvon never opened the Christmas presents they picked out for him: a thick winter coat, slacks and a couple of plaid shirts.
“Old folks shouldn’t bury young kids,” his grandfather said.