Dothan Police Chief Greg Benton claims the shooting of a man by an officer Thursday is sad but justified. Benton, standing before a packed room of reporters, talked about the shooting that also left an innocent person injured.
"One of our officers initiated the pursuit of a man believed wanted on a felony warrant," Benton said. The pursuit, reportedly at speeds of only 30 miles per hour, led to a parking lot along Montgomery Highway.
The car being chased stopped briefly and the officer got out and approached the car. Benton said that's when the man, identified as Christopher Jerome Thomas, tried to run over the patrolman. The officer then pulled his gun and fired five shots---at least one of them striking Thomas. An eyewitness said the shots were fired at near point blank range.
The car driven by Thomas then sped across Montgomery Highway and crashed into a sign-making business. Benton said a worker inside Sign Designs was injured but is expected to recover. Thomas died----almost certainly from the bullet wound and not the crash. A car in the parking lot where Thomas stopped was also struck by Thomas' car but Benton said nobody is thought to have been inside.
Court arrests indicate Thomas, 22, has been arrested numerous times including charges of shooting into an occupied dwelling and attempted murder. Records also show he has been arrested for drugs and has failed to show up for court at least twice.
The chase was captured on a camera installed in the officer's patrol unit. "The video is being downloaded and will be turned over (to state investigators)," Benton said. The chief said the video will not be made public at this time.
Benton said the officer has, as a matter of policy, been placed on administrative leave. Pending additional information, a decision will be made on when he can resume his duties.
The Alabama Bureau of Investigation is probing the case and will report its findings to District Attorney Douglas Albert Valeska. Outside agency investigations are routine in officer involved shootings.