Tactics used by police to arrest a man for a felony probation violation are under fire.
In a town outside of Atlanta police shot and killed Nicholas Taft Thomas, twenty-three, at a Goodyear store. Smyrna police allege that Thomas, who worked at the store, crawled into a customer’s Maserati when the cops arrived and tried to drive away, before turning the vehicle toward police officers.
A witness claimed the cops yelled for Thomas to get out of the car and he began to drive away, then as he put the vehicle in reverse and the police officer unloaded into the car. Mr. Thomas’ family is not buying the story and is seeking an independent review of the incident.
At least three Smyrna officers were on the scene with an additional three Cobb County Police officers. The Cobb County police have claimed they did not fire any rounds.
Smyrna police say he drove the Maserati toward officers, and a Smyrna officer fired into the car. Witnesses have disputed that account, saying police had blocked the car in and that it was not moving when the gunfire happened.
“The car was not moving when they began to shoot at him. The car had been stopped. He hit a curb. He couldn’t go any further,” Goodyear customer Brittany Eustache told WSB-TV. She said she watched the shooting from a few feet away inside the store.
Smyrna police had requested assistance from Cobb County police in delivering the warrant because the Goodyear store is near Smyrna but just outside it, in an unincorporated part of the county. Three Cobb County officers went as backup. None of them fired.
The Cobb County Police Department is investigating the shooting.
The attorney for the Thomas family, Mawuli Mel Davis, has pointed out that the conflict of interest that exists with the Cobb County police leading the investigation, while they participated in the arrest. The family has asked the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to take over the investigation.
If Cobb County police or GBI lead the investigation is probably irrelevant. There is likely bias at both agencies, which favors the arresting officers’ side of the story. We can be sure that neither agency is going to question the tactics used by police during the arrest.
They aren’t going to question if showing up where the suspect worked was the safest way to arrest Mr. Taft and not put members of the public in harms ways. They likely will not query if officers adequately evaluated how to best apprehend the suspect, without harming him or others.
These are important question when considering the criminal history of Mr. Thomas. In 2014, Thomas was convicted of aggravated assault for a 2013 incident where he drove at a Kennesaw State University police officer who was attempting to pull over Thomas for speeding.
Some will claim that Mr. Thomas’ criminal past justifies the force used that ultimately resulted in his death. But will anyone question the tactics used by police?
As of publishing time it cannot be known if the actions taken by police were justified. We simply cannot know, until more information is made available, if the lives of the arresting officers were truly in danger. But this should not impede harsh scrutiny being placed on the tactics used, which placed innocent bystanders in harm’s way. These tactics led officers to fire on a fleeing suspect in an area where collateral damage to innocent bystanders was a possibility.
The suspect’s history should have served as a warning. Apprehending the suspect at his work, during business hours, should have been better planned to minimize risk of fleeing or avoided entirely. Certainly, the risk of the suspect fleeing should have been factored in to the arrest plan.
Unfortunately, it appears the officers did not even have a plan going in. The officer’s reckless actions have resulted in one death. Luckily, no bystanders were injured, but they will forever have to live with the image of seeing a man gunned down right in front of them. As a society, this type of behavior should be a last resort, not business as usual. We should strive to have systems in place that incentivizes police officers taking into account the safety of those they serve.
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