LUMBERTON — Two highway patrolman who fired on a murder suspect have been cleared of any wrongdoing by Robeson County District Attorney Johnson Britt, who determined the South Carolina man killed himself.
Jameke Casen Thomas, 22, of Bennettsville, S.C., fled from police on April 3 after becoming the prime suspect in his mother’s shooting death earlier that day. Thomas was chased for an hour before his car was forced off Interstate 95 by Trooper Douglas Brian Strickland.
Reports at the time indicated Strickland and Trooper Henry Paul Locklear fired on Thomas and killed him. However, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner determined that Thomas died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Although shots from the two troopers struck him, they did not cause his death.
In conclusion to his investigation, Britt said the troopers’ use of their weapons on Thomas was an appropriate and justifiable response to the situation.
“Even if Mr. Thomas had not committed suicide, as he repeatedly threatened to do in his calls to 911, Troopers Locklear and Strickland were legally justified in using deadly force against Mr. Thomas as he was a clear and present danger to the officers and all drivers he encountered,” Britt said in a letter to Special Agent B.D. Williams of the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation and the Highway Patrol.
Thomas led law enforcement on a high-speed chase through the Maxton and Rowland areas of Robeson County. He then drove northward into southbound traffic on Interstate 95. The chase involved Robeson County sheriff’s deputies initially and then Highway Patrol troopers.
Strickland, a nine-year veteran, and Locklear, a 12-year veteran, were placed on administrative leave following the incident, which is standard procedure after a fatal shooting. The Highway Patrol conducts an investigation independent of the district attorney’s. The two officers have returned to duty.
Thomas’ mother, Tina Thomas, 42, was shot and killed at a home on Adamsville Road in Bennettsville, S.C., in the early morning hours of April 3. A few hours later, a 911 call was received regarding Thomas’ death, and Marlboro County Sheriff Charles Lemon called Robeson County Sheriff Kenneth Sealey to tell him Jameke Thomas might be in the Maxton area.
Robeson County deputies saw Jameke Thomas’ vehicle about 7:15 a.m. and a chase began. Highway Patrol troopers took up the chase after Jameke Thomas drove onto I-95.
During the chase, Thomas made threats against the officers following him.
“He repeatedly through 911 calls threatened to shoot the officers pursuing him ‘if they didn’t back off,’” Britt said in his report.
“Given the entire set of circumstances in this case, Troopers Locklear and Strickland appropriately and justifiably responded to this highly tense situation and as such no criminal charges will be brought against either of the troopers,” Britt wrote.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly