Instances of mistaken identity can many times have bad consequences, and in the case of Donnell Thompson it was a fatal error. The 27-year-old black man was shot and killed by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies on July 28.
Thompson was mistaken for a carjacker as another man — Robert Alexander, who stole a Honda Civic at gunpoint — fired shots at sheriff’s deputies in the Los Angeles suburb of Compton, according to the Los Angeles Times. While searching for a suspect, authorities found Thompson and mistakenly identified him as the car thief before shooting him dead. Alexander, 32, was ultimately arrested after two different chases in two different stolen cars.
The Sheriff’s department admitted Tuesday that Thompson, who attended classes at El Camino College in nearby Torrance, had nothing to do with the crime. Initially, Thompson had been characterized by police as a second suspect in the carjacking.
After reviewing the shooting, high ranking sheriff’s officials determined that while Thompson was unarmed, he did not follow the deputies’ orders when they found him. He also may have reached for his waistband while running towards an armored vehicle, officials said. When trying to subdue him, the deputies didn’t use any weapons. However, he was shot when he charged towards the officers.
Relatives of Thompson were devastated by his death and described him as a harmless man with no criminal background. The victim’s family protested his death at a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.
Thompson’s death happened a little more than a week before the two-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, the African-American man who was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
Captain Steven Katz, head of the sheriff’s homicide bureau, addressed the mistake: “Knowing what we know now, do we wish it hadn’t happened? It speaks for itself.”