Cajun Snorton (right) was engaged to Nick Thomas, who was shot in the back by a Smyrna police sergeant. Now, Snorton is suing. JOHN SPINK / JSPINK@AJC.COM
Photo: John Spink
Photo: John Spink

Lawsuit filed in ‘Maserati’ police shooting

The fiancee of a man shot in the back two years ago while trying to flee police in a Maserati, has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the Smyrna officer.

The lawsuit in the shooting death of Nicholas Thomas also names the city of Smyrna, the Kennesaw State University Police Department, District Attorney Vic Reynolds, as well as the officer Kenneth Owens — who has since been promoted to lieutenant.

All those named declined to comment on the suit Tuesday and the details of filing weren’t available as the suit was sealed under a judge’s orders.

Read about Thomas’ autopsy

Thomas was shot in the back by Owens outside the Cumberland Parkway Goodyear where the 23-year-old father worked as a mechanic on March 24, 2015.

The police were trying to serve Thomas a probation violation warrant when he hopped into a customer’s Maserati. Police say Thomas then drove toward the officers, causing Owens to shoot Thomas out of fear.

Kenneth Owens when he was a sergeant
Photo: Smyrna Police Department

Video footage supposedly confirming that account was shown in the closed proceedings of the grand jury, which decided in July 2015 that the shooting was justified.

Activist Rich Pellegrino and Thomas’ loved ones disagree.

Pellegrino, head of the Nick Thomas Justice Coalition, said the lawsuit is based on “not only the incident of the murder of Nick Thomas but the cover-up of these facts and collusion between the city of Smyrna and the district attorney’s office.”

City attorney Scott Cochran wrote in an email that Smyrna does not comment on pending litigation, but did say the Georgia Bureau of Investigations and U.S. Department of Justice found there was no need for charges against the officer.

Cochran continued by saying: “We believe that the civil suit is defensible.”

Pellegrino said Kennesaw campus police are mentioned in the lawsuit because he claims they wrongfully slapped Thomas with a charge of aggravated assault against an officer in 2013 when he fled from a KSU officer in a car and tried to hit them.

Pellegrino said officers heading to that Goodyear to serve Thomas with the violation of probation warrant were put on edge by the fact he had a prior charge of trying to hurt an officer.

“In their minds, he was violent and had attacked police before. And that must have been in Kenneth Owens’ mind when he did it,” Pellegrino said.

Over The Line: Police Shootings in Georgia

When asked why Thomas tried to flee from cops in that Maserati, Pellegrino said nationally publicized police shootings have left young black men scared.

An analysis by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on fatal police shootings shows there were 29 such incidents throughout the state in 2015.

“Many of the young black men I’ve talked to have said they are not stopping anymore,” Pellegrino said.

He said he encouraged Thomas’ fiancee Cajun Snorton to file the lawsuit before the two-year limitation to file for the sake of her and the two-year-old daughter she and Thomas had together.

Pellegrino said Snorton and others are vetting attorneys throughout the country to handle the case.

The police department hopes the decision will end the protests over the Nicholas Thomas shooting.

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