A jury has awarded $30 million in damages to a mother whose 6-year-old son was murdered in 2019 by a man who had worked for an after-school program operated by the Los Angeles Unified School District.
In a verdict handed down Aug. 10, the jury said the school district was negligent in hiring, retaining and supervising Tyler D'Shaun Martin Brand, an after-school coach who killed Dayvon Taylor the day after Christmas in 2019. The school district had allowed Brand to solicit parents to look after their children, and Taylor was inside Brand's Downey apartment when he was fatally beaten.
"My son did not deserve to die at all. He was really happy, joyful, helpful, respectful," the child's mother, Kenya Taylor, told reporters at a news conference Tuesday.
The L.A. County Superior Court jury in Van Nuys found that the district was responsible for 90% of the negligence that led to the death, with the remaining 10% determined to be the fault of Kenya Taylor.
Brand was an after-school coach at Normandie Avenue Elementary School and had befriended Taylor's family. Dayvon, nicknamed "Day Day," attended the district's "Beyond the Bell" program.
Brand seemed beloved by children at the elementary school where Dayvon was a first-grader, Kenya Taylor said, and she allowed him to take Dayvon to movies and on play dates with other children. The two grew so close that she made him the boy's godfather.
But an investigation determined that Brand severely beat Dayvon on Dec. 26, 2019, while the boy was was staying with him. He died at St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach the same day.
An investigation determined the boy had been repeatedly punched, and that the blunt force trauma led to his death. After Brand was arrested and charged with murder, Kenya Taylor sued the school district for negligence over its former employee.
Brand, 26, was charged in Superior Court in Norwalk and pleaded no contest to second-degree murder in May 2022. He was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison.
During a civil trial earlier this month, Kenya Taylor's attorney, Steve Vartazarian, alleged Brand had a checkered employment history and that his client would have never trusted him without the district's after-school program. He also presented evidence that L.A. Unified's human resources department was never involved in hiring Brand, and that the staff responsible for it were not trained to filter out candidates unsuited to being with children.
Vartazarian showed jurors that Brand had no training or experience with children, and that a supervisor who knew Brand offered babysitting services did not check his references.
L.A. Unified attorneys argued that the district should not be responsible for a slaying that occurred on private property outside of school hours, and said that Brand had passed numerous background checks.
"No LAUSD employee had any reason to believe that Martin Brand was a danger to students until the day he was arrested for the murder of Dayvon Taylor," the district's attorneys stated in court papers, noting that they had no reports of abusive or violent behavior by him.
Whether the district will seek to overturn the verdict or appeal the award has yet to be determined.
"While this tragedy happened off campus and during a holiday break, the safety and well-being of all students remains Los Angeles Unified's top priority," the district said in a statement. "Regarding the jury verdict, this is a legal matter. Los Angeles Unified intends to consider all available options."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.