COMPTON — His nickname is spelled out using three balloon letters — TAY— at the small makeshift memorial for 31-year-old Donta Gurrell Taylor.
Near the wash where sheriff’s deputies shot and killed Taylor, you will also see poster-boards with messages like “Rest in Peace,” “I love you,” “Imma miss you,” and one of his favorite phrases: “Phonksta.”
But don’t ask his buddies what it means. They don’t know. It’s just something their friend liked to say. A friend who they say took young people to sports practices and was trying to get on a good path.
“It just hurts that a young black dude out here trying to do something good with his life [is gone],” says Taylor’s good friend Abdul Dixon, “He was just in the midst of getting a job and then this situation happened, so it’s kinda like crazy.”
How Taylor ended up losing his life at the end of Arbutus Street near his home is becoming increasingly controversial.
Sheriff’s deputies say when they pulled up to the area near the wash Aug. 25 around 8:30 p.m., Taylor took out a gun and pointed it at them. They say he then ran, and that one of the deputies fired at him.
But there’s a problem. After a night of searching Wilmington Avenue, Arbutus Street, and Kemp Avenue, and even up to one week later, the Sheriff’s Department has been unable to find the gun Taylor allegedly pointed at one of them.
Now they’ve put out a call for the public’s help in finding the weapon.
“Detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau are asking members of the community who saw the incident, or who may have information regarding the shooting, to come forward and assist with the investigative process,” the plea said. “The Sheriff’s Department also wants to caution anyone who finds a firearm in the area to avoid retrieving it, and to leave the gun in place before immediately calling the Compton Sheriff’s Station or 911. Deputies will respond and safely recover the firearm.”
Taylor’s friend Dixon acknowledges that it is not always in the best interest of suspects to run from police. But he says authorities could still have handled the situation differently.
“Police in Compton deal with people running all the time,” he said. “It comes with the territory in the inner city. Now you go in a white neighborhood, of course, you’re not gonna run. But in a city, you’re gonna have more people who’re gonna run because in the inner city, there’s more crime.
“So you’re used to this. So now you don’t just want to get out of the car and go run, you just wanna go shoot people? That’s crazy,” Dixon said.
Sheriff’s Lt. Steve Jauch said the officers involved in the shooting are still working. He said no witnesses have come forward accusing the officers of wrongdoing, and that the deputies were not issued body cameras.
He said the department won’t release some details of the investigation because he wants any eyewitness information to be authentic, and not something they may have seen in the news.
Ultimately, Jauch said, investigators will present their findings to the District Attorney’s Office, which will determine if the shooting was lawful. He said the investigation could take some time, but can’t give a timetable how long it will take. “I would rather have us do this right, than quickly,” Jauch said. “We want to be thorough.”
But Dixon is not buying that.
“You shot somebody numerous times who did not even have a gun,” he said. “How does that make you feel as a person? What if it was your son, or what if it was your cousin, or nephew, how would you feel as a person?”
Dixon said he would like to know the proper procedure in cases like this. He said deputies have other alternatives to shooting a suspect. He says they could have used a Taser or cornered Taylor, instead of firing at him.
Sheriff’s deputies say officer-involved shootings that end in fatalities trigger multiple investigations including from the Coroner’s Office, the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau and Internal Affairs Bureau.
The Sheriff’s Department also notifies the Office of the Inspector General and the Critical Incident Review panel convenes to perform a preliminary risk management analysis of the shooting.
The incident is ultimately evaluated by the Sheriff’s Executive Force Review Committee, which determines whether there are any policy, tactical, supervisory or training violations or concerns.
The District Attorney’s Office also participates in the investigatory process and conducts a legal analysis of the shooting.
While authorities continue looking into the case, Taylor’s friends say they’re waiting for word on funeral services.
Dixon said a “Go Fund Me” account has been set up to pay for the services, and that they are reaching out to rapper The Game who they say grew up in the area and was friends with Taylor.
Ed Winter with the County Coroner’s Office said the autopsy was scheduled for Aug. 31, and that a report would be available in a day or two.