Only a few weeks after a naked unarmed Black man was fatally shot by police officers in DeKalb County, another unarmed Black man in Georgia has fallen victim to what some have already deemed excessive use of force by police.
Nicholas Taft Thomas, 23, was fatally shot on Tuesday by a police officer in Smyrna. Officers on the scene claimed he tried to run them over with his vehicle when they arrived at the Goodyear Tire where he worked to serve a felony probation violation warrant from Clayton County.
The only details anyone can be sure of at this point are that officers fired at Thomas’s vehicle and killed him.
Why the officers fired, how many shots were fired, where they fired and many other details surrounding the incident are murky.
Conflicting reports by both police officers and alleged eyewitnesses are leaving the details even further shrouded in a cloud of mystery.
It’s a story that the Black community has become painfully used to whenever a Black man is killed by law enforcement—police officers refuse to discuss the most important details and eye witnesses insist police claims of self-defense are completely unsubstantiated.
In Thomas’ case, two different reports have emerged about where the officers were in relation to the vehicle that they initially claimed was speeding towards them when one officer opened fire.
The Smyrna officers involved claimed they feared for their life because Thomas was driving his Maserati “directly at them.”
Smyrna police Sgt. Ed Cason supported the claims, telling The Marietta Daily Journal that the officers “were in fear for their lives and shot rounds into the vehicle, killing the suspect.”
In an emailed statement to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, however, Cason’s version of events creates a scene where officers wouldn’t have been standing in the vehicle’s path when they fired.
“Due to heavy window tint on the vehicle, officers could not see into the car,” he wrote, according to the AJC. “Thus, the officers used less than lethal bean bag rounds in an attempt to break out the passenger side window and look into the car.”
It is unclear if this attempt was what led to Thomas being fatally shot, but witnesses who claimed to have seen the entire incident unfold said one thing is certain.
They claim the officers were not at any risk of being run over when Thomas was fatally shot.
“The car was not moving when they began to shoot at him,” Brittany Eustache, who was inside the Goodyear when the shooting happened, told WSB-TV. “The car had been stopped. He hit a curb. He couldn’t go any further.”
It adds to a number of accounts that claim Thomas was trying to jump a curb with the vehicle to get away from police—an action that’s illegal but wouldn’t necessarily warrant the use of deadly force.
“He was jumping the curve trying to get away, which I know is illegal, but he didn’t kill anybody,” Thomas’ father told Channel 2 Action News. “And from what I knew, he’s not under a criminal warrant for murder, he’s not that type of kid.”
Despite police claiming they were at risk of being run over when they fired, images of the car after the incident reveal bullet holes all along the side of the vehicle while the front of the car had much less damage. For many, this alone is a reason to question whether or not the suspect was truly driving his car towards the officers when eyewitnesses say his car had already been immobilized.
These are the type of details that could provide much more clarity into the case if law enforcement officials were willing to confirm the officers’ account.
In an email to Fox News, Cason actually refused to give details about whether or not the car was driving towards officers or discuss details about where the bullets hit the vehicle.
The Smyrna Police Department’s policy called for the officer who fired to be placed on administrative leave but Cason has declined to release that officer’s identity.
As the officers exemplify yet another case of lack of transparency from police following fatal shootings, there has been no hesitancy to highlight the suspect’s criminal past.
There has been a great amount of focus placed on previous charges that suggest Thomas had accelerated a vehicle towards police officers in the past along with a series of other unrelated run-ins with the law in previous years.
Of course, recent events would prove that a criminal history is no indicator of whether or not a Black man is liable to be gunned down by police.
The family of another unarmed, Black man in Georgia has recently launched their own investigation into the killing of U.S. Air Force veteran Anthony Hill.
Hill was completely nude when officers shot him and yet again put forth claims of self-defense.
Hill’s family said they simply want to “find the truth” and figure out why their loved one, who suffered from bi-polar disorder, was killed by police when it was incredibly obvious that he was unarmed.
Officers said Hill began charging at them and refused orders to stop when they shot him, immediately causing the community to question why non-lethal force wasn’t used instead.
In addition the family’s own investigation, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is also looking into the matter.