- Associated Press - Friday, June 19, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - A man who was killed by a police officer’s bullet was shot in the back, a metro-Atlanta medical examiner’s report says, adding a new twist to a case in which police say the man was driving a car toward officers when the incident happened.

An autopsy on the body of 23-year-old Nicholas Thomas was conducted by the Cobb County medical examiner’s office March 25, the day after Thomas was killed while at the wheel of a customer’s Maserati outside the Goodyear tire store where he worked, according to the report that was certified by the medical examiner on Tuesday.

Police have said Smyrna police Sgt. Kenneth Owens shot Thomas because the officer feared for his life. Police have said Thomas was driving toward officers as they tried to serve him with a warrant for a parole violation, though his family says other witnesses dispute that.

The medical examiner’s report says 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.

“Nicholas Thomas died as a result of a gunshot wound of the torso sustained during an altercation with police,” the report says. “The manner of death is classified as homicide. The designation of the manner of death as homicide does not necessarily indicate improper actions on the part of police.”

Mawuli Davis, a lawyer for Thomas’ family said 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.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has completed an investigation of the incident and given the results to Cobb County District Attorney Vic Reynolds. His office released a statement this week saying the investigative files are under review and prosecutors plan to present the case to a grand jury next month.

Davis accompanied Thomas’ family to a meeting this week with the GBI. The family was told there is video of events surrounding the shooting but not of the shooting itself, Davis said.

The family wanted to see the video but was told by the GBI that Reynolds had asked that it not be shown, Davis said. Reynolds’ office said no evidence can be released during a pending investigation.

Owens was placed on administrative leave following the shooting, but police said last month 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 later said he and Cobb County police Chief John Houser decided to ask the GBI to investigate “in the spirit of transparency and openness.”

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