Atlanta, GA – Fulton County Sheriff’s Office (FCSO) Deputy James Thomas was fatally shot while off-duty on Dec. 29.
Fulton County Sheriff Pat Labat said the 24-year-old deputy had wrapped up a work shift shortly before the shooting occurred, according to WAGA.
The investigation into the incident began at approximately 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 29, when police received a report of shots fired in the area of Payton Road and Bolton Road, WAGA reported.
They arrived at the scene to find a silver car that had been involved in a crash.
Deputy Thomas’ body was discovered in the driver’s seat, WAGA reported.
Atlanta Police Department (APD) Deputy Chief Charles Hampton said the suspect, 26-year-old Alton Oliver, was on foot when he and Deputy Thomas got into “some type of argument that escalated to the gunfire,” according to WXIA.
They said they believe Deputy Thomas was murdered after the crash, WAGA reported.
Investigators do not believe Oliver and Deputy Thomas new one another prior to the incident, the deputy chief said.
A motive was not immediately released.
Police have released few other details about the case, but noted they were able to track down the suspect thanks to information provided by the public and the city’s video surveillance cameras.
“It shows the work of citizens. The 911 caller, some truck drivers who had some dash cam videos and just the technology that the city of Atlanta has that leads to investigations and success like this,” Deputy Chief Hampton told reporters.
“Our camera network called ‘Connect Atlanta’ was very instrumental in helping bring this individual to justice,” Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens told WANF.
Oliver was arrested on Monday.
He has no prior criminal history and a handful of traffic infractions, according to WAGA.
Oliver was booked into the Cobb County Jail on charges of felony murder, possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and aggravated assault, WXIA reported.
Sheriff Labat described Deputy Thomas as “the life of the party.”
“He was an outstanding young man,” the sheriff told WAGA. “We personally recruited him from another agency down south specifically because of his energy and the love for what he brought to our agency.”
Deputy Thomas joined the FCSO in August of 2022, the department said in a press release.
He previously served with the Milledgeville Police Department, and was assigned to Grady Detention at the time of his death.
“As you can imagine, we’re grieving with the family,” Sheriff Labat said, according to WSB. “But we are also wrapping our arms around the family, loving and supporting him.”
A fundraising page established to help Deputy Thomas’ family in the wake of his murder has raised more than $2,000 so far.
Deputy Thomas, who grew up in Mississippi, knew he wanted to work in the law enforcement field from the time he was a kid, according to Edwards Police Chief Terence Crump.
“Every time we would come through the neighborhood, he was just excited to see the officers he would flag us down,” Chief Crump told WAGA. “He was really a blessing, because most kids his age, law enforcement wasn’t on the radar for them.”
Chief Crump said he took the aspiring deputy under his wing and helped him begin his career in law enforcement.
They continued to stay in touch after Deputy Thomas left the area, and had spoken less than 24 hours before the young deputy was found dead, WAGA reported.
We mourn the loss of Deputy James Thomas, killed in an off-duty incident on Dec 29th. The reward for information leading to an arrest has increased to $30K. Deputy Thomas joined FCSO in Aug 2022; recruited for his incredible dedication and work ethic. He will be missed. pic.twitter.com/JX8iq7dhQI
— Fulton County Sheriff's Office (@FultonSheriff) December 30, 2022
His dedication, and impact, on the agency will be truly missed.
Additionally, a GoFundMe has been established in memory of Deputy Thomas. If you would like to donate, please click the link here: https://t.co/pXOZWV0Rnx
— Fulton County Sheriff's Office (@FultonSheriff) January 4, 2023
It was extremely heartbreaking to receive the news of Deputy James Thomas, who was only 24 years old. I send my deepest condolences to the family of Deputy Thomas and the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office. pic.twitter.com/rNSqFrpiEC
— Sheriff Keybo Taylor (@KeyboTaylor) December 30, 2022
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Fulton County Sheriff’s Office Deputy James Thomas, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.
Rest easy, hero. We’ll hold the line from here.