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LA Supes Approve Huge $7M Payout To Settle Suit Over Fatal Shooting By Deputies

Donta Taylor (Courtesy of John Sweeney)
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In one of the largest payouts over a wrongful death lawsuit involving L.A. County sheriff's deputies, the Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a $7 million settlement with the father and three children of Donta Taylor.

Two deputies killed Taylor in 2016 after he allegedly pointed a gun at one of them in Compton. No gun was ever found.

Sheriff's investigators spent more than a day searching for the weapon around a wash where the shooting occurred. At one point, investigators speculated someone grabbed it in the moments after the confrontation.

Any gun Taylor had would have been nearby, said Taylor family attorney John Sweeney.

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"He fell right where they shot him," Sweeney said. "There was no gun."

A report from the District Attorney's office that cleared the deputies of any criminal wrongdoing said gunshot residue testing from Taylor's hands was inconclusive. It added that gunshot residue was detected in Taylor's pocket and waistband, which is consistent with him being in possession of a gun "at some point."

The absence of a gun likely was a factor in the large payout - especially because nothing that looked like a gun was found either, said UCLA Law School Professor Joanna Schwartz, who studies legal settlements in police shooting cases.

"So there's no room for the officers to say they were mistaken," Schwartz told LAist.

There may be other unknown reasons for the size of the settlement, including evidence that has not been made public, she added.

County lawyers said in a summary memo to the supervisors that placing the case before a jury would be too risky because a jury might award the family even more money. "A reasonable settlement at this time will avoid further litigation costs," the memo said.

The memo noted the sheriff's Executive Force Review Committee had found that while the deputies were justified in shooting Taylor, their tactics violated department policy.

The incident began when anti-gang deputies driving along Wilmington Avenue pulled their squad car alongside Taylor around 8:30 p.m. on August 25, 2016. When they asked if he was on parole, Taylor allegedly said no, pulled a gun from his waistband, and started running, the memo said.

It went on to say Taylor was wearing a red hat with the letter "C", commonly worn by the "Cedar Block Pirus" gang that controls the area. It was determined later that Taylor was on parole for being a felon in possession of a firearm, according to the District Attorney's office.

Instead of waiting for backup to set up a containment area around Taylor, the deputies jumped out of their car and ran after him along two city blocks, across a footbridge and down a dirt patch alongside a wash, according to the summary.

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The memo said the deputies endangered their own lives by splitting up during the pursuit of a presumably armed suspect.

The deputies lost sight of each other during the pursuit and both mistook the gunfire of the other for Taylor shooting, the summary said.

The county's defense of the shooting faced at least one other challenge: In response to a question from Sweeney during a May 2018 deposition, one of the two deputies, Samuel Aldama, conceded he harbored "ill feelings" toward black people. Taylor was black.

Moments later Aldama reversed himself, and said he hadn't understood the question. But in an interview with LAist, Sweeney said by that point, "the damage had been done."