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Viewpoint: Officer failed to represent facts during deadly chase (Video never seen before)

Dothan policeman who shot man to death wrong about speed, other issues in pursuit

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The past week a woman was sentenced to three years probation for committing perjury before a grand jury investigating the shooting death of a man by a Dothan police officer. Nancy Young admitted she provided false testimony when she appeared before the panel about one year ago.

Christopher Thomas, 22, was shot by the officer at the conclusion of a pursuit that lasted less than two minutes. The SUV Thomas was driving then traveled across Montgomery Highway where it rammed a printing business injuring an employee inside. Tests showed he likely died from the shots and not the impact of the crash.

However, it appears Ms. Young isn’t the only one who made misrepresentations regarding the death of Christopher Thomas. The officer, who we will not identify at this time, was mistaken before the chase began about who was driving the older model Ford Bronco--telling dispatchers that he believed the person was Johnny Jerome Hill who had outstanding arrest warrants. It wasn’t Hill but, instead, Thomas that was driving the vehicle.

Young was accused of lying to the grand jury about speeds during the June, 2012 chase---she testified it was a low speed chase. However, the officer also wrongly assessed speeds. He reported to dispatch that they were “about 30 (mph)” when both cars were actually traveling nearly 60 miles per hour through a residential area at this time. Speed is among factors considered by supervisors before deciding whether to suspend a pursuit because of public safety. In fact, a car that pulled partially into the path of the chase was nearly struck. Had it been, the driver would have likely sustained serious injuries or even been killed.

Another glaring inconsistency regarding information provided by the officer appears to be what happened in the parking lot where the pursuit ended. The patrolman told dispatchers not once, but twice, that Thomas tried to ram his SUV into an unmarked car that was parked there. To the contrary, it appears Thomas never attempted to strike it and, instead, swerved to make sure he misses the car.

Thomas died a few seconds later—the officer jumps from his cruiser and almost immediately fires five shots, all of them striking Thomas. The video from the police car does not capture the shooting.

Some people who were nearby at the time claim the officer unnecessarily fired on Thomas a point blank range. However, the grand jury found the officer actions were justified. No doubt Thomas failing to stop was a contributing factor in the panel’s decision.

We’ll never know what happened in a few fateful seconds and the case appears to be closed. However, the police surveillance video obtained exclusively by WDHN raises serious questions. Furthermore, why did law enforcement not release the video despite repeated requests? Only through law enforcement sources with whom we’ve had long relationships were we able to obtain it. Did they not want the public to see what really happened that day?

We support law enforcement and recognize their jobs are difficult. Nor are we accusing the officer of wrongdoing. But, from what we see, his actions certainly raise a few eyebrows.

This article represents the views of the author who can be emailed at ken@wdhn.com

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