ATLANTA (AP) — A grand jury found that a police officer was justified in shooting a man outside a metro Atlanta tire store where he worked, recommending no further action in the case, a prosecutor said Thursday.
Authorities have said Smyrna police Sgt. Kenneth Owens fatally shot 23-year-old Nicholas Thomas on March 24 as he drove a customer's Maserati toward officers, who were trying to serve him with a felony parole violation warrant outside a Goodyear tire store.
Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds said in an emailed statement that the loss of life is unfortunate and that he sympathizes with Thomas' family.
"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," the statement says. "Police officers in Georgia are authorized to fire their weapons to protect themselves or others from immediate bodily harm. That is what happened in this case."
Reynolds said both the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Cobb County Police Department concluded the shooting was "justified under the facts and the law."
Attorney Mawuli Davis, who represents Thomas' family, said Thursday that he is meeting with the family to discuss next steps and had no immediate comment. He planned a news conference for Friday with the family and a private investigator hired to conduct a parallel investigation.
The medical examiner's report, which was released last month, said Thomas died from a gunshot wound after a bullet entered his upper back on the right side. The bullet hit his lungs and aorta before coming to rest in his upper chest on the left side.
The autopsy did not determine how far the officer was from Thomas when the shot was fired, but the report says no gunpowder or soot was found on Thomas' back or shirt.
Davis said last month that the fact that Thomas was shot in the back "reinforces the position we have taken that he was not a threat to the officers." It also seems to contradict the police assertion that Thomas was driving toward officers, Davis said.
Owens was placed on administrative leave following the shooting, but police said in May that he had returned to work at a desk job.
Smyrna police initially said Cobb County police would investigate the shooting because it happened in their jurisdiction. But Cobb County officers were on the scene as backup when the shooting happened, and Thomas' family and others called for an investigation by the GBI.
Reynolds said just over a week after the shooting that he and Cobb County police Chief John Houser decided to ask the GBI to investigate "in the spirit of transparency and openness."