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Ga. deputy slain off duty remembered for service as Army veteran, officer

Investigators believe Fulton County Deputy James Thomas was shot while driving his personal vehicle

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By Alexis Stevens
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

FULTON COUNTY, Ga. — He had tried to help two young men, telling them to stay off the streets and out of trouble. But in late November, Fulton County Deputy James Thomas learned that both had been shot to death.

“But long story short, I wish I could have done something more to help them,” Thomas posted on his Facebook page. “I’m tired of seeing the young males and females dying.”

A month later, Thomas also became a victim of gun violence.

Investigators believe he was shot while driving early Thursday. At about 4:30 a.m., officers found the deputy’s body in the driver’s seat of his car in the 1900 block of Bolton Road after he had crashed, Atlanta police Maj. Pete Malecki said. Thomas was 24.

He wasn’t on duty at the time and was in his personal vehicle, according to investigators. On Friday, they continued to try to piece together what happened between when he left the Grady Detention Center, where he worked, and when he was killed.

The deputy’s death marked the 168th homicide investigation of the year in Atlanta, the most since 1996.

The reward was increased Friday to $30,000 for information leading to an arrest in the case. Only a handful of clues were released publicly during a Thursday afternoon news conference, leading police officials to ask for others to come forward.

The early-morning hour of the incident meant fewer drivers were on the road. But investigators said the driver of a van who saw Thomas “driving erratically” on Bolton Road later contacted authorities to report his van had collided with the car.

During the initial 911 call released Friday, a man driving a semi-truck told the operator he had witnessed a drive-by shooting. But he said he was unable to see the vehicle or person who fired the shots.

“He wrecked out. He’s in the middle of the street,” the caller said. “They just rolled up on him and shot him.”

The caller said Thomas didn’t appear to be breathing when he looked inside the car.

While Atlanta police detectives worked to determine who killed Thomas, the Fulton sheriff’s office joined former colleagues in grieving the young deputy.

A Mississippi native, Thomas previously worked in his hometown, the Hinds County sheriff said.

“Deputy Thomas, a Jackson native, Murrah High School graduate, former JPD Officer and served in the U.S. Army, was tragically killed off duty in Atlanta,” Hinds Sheriff Tyree Jones posted on Facebook. “May God be with the many lives he touched and may you find peace during this difficult time. We are eternally grateful for his service to our city and country.”

Thomas later moved to Georgia and began employment as a cadet with the MARTA Police Department in August 2020, according to the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council. He resigned after three months.

Then in June of this year, Thomas was hired by the Milledgeville Police Department, where he was employed for six weeks before joining the Fulton sheriff’s office in August, records show.

Despite his short time in Fulton, he was well-liked by his colleagues, according to Sheriff Pat Labat.

“He was the life of the party. He was just a very, very good spirit. It didn’t matter what the situation was,” Labat said. “He was what you would want in a deputy.”

Funeral arrangements for Thomas were pending Friday.

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to contact Atlanta police. Tipsters can remain anonymous, and still be eligible for the cash reward, by calling Crime Stoppers at 404-577-8477.

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