L.A. County to pay $1.5 million to family of disabled man who was fatally shot after being mistaken as suspect

Steven Katz, head of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s detective division, speaks at a 2016 news conference to discuss the fatal shooting of Donnell Thompson Jr., who was mistaken for a carjacking suspect in Compton.
(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County has agreed to pay $1.49 million to the family of an unarmed, disabled Compton man who was shot and killed by a sheriff’s deputy in a tragic case of mistaken identity last year, officials said.

The settlement, approved Tuesday by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, will be paid to the father of 27-year-old Donnell Thompson Jr., according to Brian Dunn, an attorney with the Cochran Firm who is representing the family.

Thompson came into contact with a group of sheriff’s deputies in Compton last July as they hunted for Robert Alexander, a 26-year-old carjacking suspect who had opened fire on deputies after a pursuit in Compton.


Alexander had a lengthy criminal history, but Thompson was described by relatives as a sweet, soft-spoken man who was attending classes for people with mental disabilities at El Camino College.

After shooting at deputies twice, Alexander stormed into a home on Slater Street at gunpoint, threatened to kill the occupants and hid in the bedroom of an elderly woman, authorities said. He was arrested a short time later.

Authorities, however, were unable to immediately identify Alexander as the carjacking suspect.

At about the same time, a resident on West Stockwell Street called authorities to report a man lying in his front yard. It was Thompson.

Another group of deputies, unaware of Alexander’s arrest, moved in, believing they had found the carjacking suspect who had opened fire, authorities said last year.

Thompson did not respond to commands and did not move when deputies set off flash-bang explosives nearby, authorities said last year. Eventually, he was struck by foam bullets and took off running toward an armored vehicle.


Deputies said Thompson had his hand near his waistband while he was running. A SWAT team member in the turret of an armored vehicle shot him twice with an M4 rifle, authorities said. Thompson was pronounced dead at the scene.

The deputies were in no danger of being shot by Thompson but feared he was actually Alexander and might have been running toward another house or posed a danger to nearby residents, authorities said last year.

The Sheriff’s Department initially announced Thompson as a second suspect in the carjacking case, but officials corrected themselves during a news conference in August 2016, admitting that Thompson was innocent of any connection.

Alexander was initially arrested on suspicion of attempted murder of a peace officer, records show. He died at Patton State Hospital this year, said Greg Risling, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. The cause of death was not immediately clear.

Thompson’s relatives previously said that deputies aggravated the situation by using force against the 27-year-old as he lay motionless. They suggested that race played a role in the shooting and staged a protest in downtown Los Angeles last year on the two-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s death at the hands of a police officer in Ferguson, Mo., a killing that set off a national debate about police use of force against African Americans. Thompson was black.

Dunn said the slain man’s relatives are happy with the resolution of the case and hope the department will take measures to prevent similar fatal incidents of mistaken identity.


“This type of thing is about the most devastating thing that can happen to folks, because it comes out of nowhere. Then you get that call that your loved one is dead,” he said, adding that the formation of the department’s Civilian Oversight Commission has come as welcome news to the Thompson family.

A spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Department declined to comment on the settlement or identify the deputy involved in the shooting. The incident resulted in “additional training” within the agency, the spokeswoman said, but she did not elaborate.

The shooting remains under review by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, Risling said. Experts told The Times last year that the fact that Thompson was not the carjacking suspect would have little bearing on a decision to charge the officers.

Los Angeles County has seen a dramatic surge in the amount of money it has paid out to resolve legal claims against the Sheriff’s Department stemming from deputy shootings, excessive force, sexual assault and other misconduct in recent years, according to a Times analysis. The county’s annual payouts jumped from $5.6 million in 2011 to nearly $51 million last year, records show.


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