The incident is the latest in a string of fatal officer-involved shootings of black men across America. As in the recent police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minn., the shooting in Compton has prompted accusations of racial profiling and excessive force.
Stanley said she thought her brother’s race played a role in the shooting. The incident also raises questions about the militarization of law enforcement, as departments across the country increasingly use armored vehicles and assault rifles to fight crime.
“In a civilian neighborhood, they bring an urban assault vehicle,” Brian Dunn, an attorney representing the Thompson family, told the Huffington Post. “The BearCat, it’s like a tank. Their response to this situation was so aggressive. Their tactics were so aggressive.”
The tragedy began in the early hours of July 28 when Robert Alexander, 24, allegedly stole a Honda Civic in Los Angeles, taking the car at gunpoint from its owner.
Fifteen miles to the south, in Compton, a sheriff’s deputy later spotted the Civic traveling erratically and decided to pull it over, according to the Los Angeles Times. The license plate showed the car was stolen. As a second patrol car arrived, the Civic drove off, punching through an elementary school’s fence.
As the car sped through Compton, Alexander allegedly shot at deputies, causing them to return fire. After the Civic crashed into a parked car, Alexander escaped on foot.
As he ran along Slater Street, the carjacker threatened two people on a front porch, according to the Times. He then entered the house, threw his gun under a couch, took his clothes off and climbed into a bed where an elderly woman — a complete stranger — was sleeping.
Despite the ruse, deputies found him and arrested him at 4:59 a.m.
Seconds later, a man living a few blocks away called 911. He told dispatchers he was taking out his trash when he spotted a figure lying in his front yard, the Times reported.
Although authorities already had Alexander in custody, there was confusion over whether he was the carjacker. A deputy who responded to the 911 call, meanwhile, saw that the figure in the man’s front yard resembled the carjacking suspect: a black man between the ages of 20 and 30 wearing dark pants or shorts and a basketball jersey.
The deputy radioed that he had found the carjacker who had fired at police, and the armored vehicles quickly arrived.
Thompson didn’t respond to commands, instead remaining motionless with one hand under his head and another concealed near his waist. An object that looked like a gun lay nearby, Katz said. When flash-bang explosives failed to wake Thompson, SWAT deputies shot him with foam bullets.