No charges for Smyrna officer who shot Maserati driver in back

Nicholas Thomas (Family photo)
Nicholas Thomas (Family photo)

Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds said Thursday he will not pursue charges against the Smyrna police officer who shot and killed a 23-year-old Goodyear employee.

A Cobb grand jury recommended no action be taken against Smyrna Sgt. Kenneth Owens, who argued he shot Nicholas Thomas in self-defense.

The March 24 shooting drew widespread protests from activists who argued Thomas was unarmed and thus no threat to police. But Reynolds said the Maserati that Thomas was driving when officers tried to serve him with an arrest warrant for a probation violation was a weapon.

“The loss of life is unfortunate, and I sincerely sympathize with Mr. Thomas’s survivors,” Reynolds said. “But when he drove the vehicle toward officers in the manner he did, the officer who fired the shots was justified under the law to use lethal force.”

“Police officers in Georgia are authorized to fire their weapons to protect themselves or others from immediate bodily harm,” Reynolds said. “That is what happened in this case.”

Mawuli Davis, the attorney for Thomas’ parents, declined comment but said his clients will speak with reporters on Friday.

“Of all the officers who were there, only one officer felt his life was threatened,” Davis said recently. He also noted the bullets were fired in the side of the Maserati, as it sped past the officers.

“Unless a car can travel sideways, I don’t know how you can be in fear of your life.”

In a statement, Smyrna police said they were “satisfied this incident was thoroughly scrutinized, investigated, and evaluated.” The statement pointed out that Cobb police, the GBI, Reynolds and the grand jury all concluded the shooting was justified.

Thomas was working at the Goodyear store on Cumberland Parkway when Smyrna and Cobb officers arrived around 1:30 p.m. to serve the warrant, according to police. When Thomas saw police, he left the store and got into a customer’s white, four-door Maserati.

Police said the man drove it toward officers, prompting Owens to fire multiple shots at the vehicle. Thomas died at the scene near Cumberland Mall.

The fatal bullet entered Thomas’ body in his right upper back, moved left and downward before puncturing ribs, both lungs and the aorta, according to the Cobb Medical Examiner.

The results of Thomas’ autopsy “galvanized the belief among a lot of people” that Owens should be prosecuted, said Jim Chambers, an organizer with Rise Up Georgia.

“There’s going to be a lot of anger,” he said.

Owens, a Smyrna officer since 2001, said he shot Thomas in self-defense.

“He has interacted with thousands of citizens, made hundreds of arrests, contacted numerous armed individuals, including barricaded suspects, and encountered numerous wanted felons,” Smyrna police said in a statement. “He has been involved in more than 35 foot or vehicle pursuits and has made more than 100 felony arrests.

“However, he has never before fired a weapon at anyone during the course of his sworn duties.”

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