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Parents of man shot dead by sheriff's deputy awarded $7.5 million

A Compton jury Friday awarded $7.5 million to the parents of a man shot dead by a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy.

According to the parents' attorney, Robert Thomas Jr. was standing outside with about 60 others at a party in Willowbrook in 2010 when two deputies pulled up.

One stopped Thomas and frisked him. Thomas then bolted, and the two deputies gave chase. A sheriff's spokesman said the deputies saw Thomas reach for a gun that was sticking out of his pocket.

Deputy Victor Lemus fired nine shots, hitting Thomas seven times and killing him, said John Sweeney, the Thomas family's attorney.

Deputies found a gun at the scene, but whom the weapon belonged to is in dispute. Sweeney said Thomas did not have a gun, and his DNA was not found on it. Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said the gun was found in Thomas' pocket.

"We brought the gun to the trial," Whitmore said. "We showed the gun to the jury."

Whitmore said the jurors would not talk to sheriff's representatives about why they sided with Thomas. He said the department would appeal.

Sweeney said the deputies were amped up because they believed they were pulling up on a party being thrown by gang members from a Crips set.

Thomas, however, worked as a security guard and was not affiliated with a gang, Sweeney said. The only tattoo he had was his mother's name over his heart, according to the attorney.

Asked if he believed the deputies planted the gun they found, Sweeney simply reiterated that the gun was not Thomas'. He could not explain why the 21-year-old ran from the deputies.

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