Without the baby face, sugary snacks and legal minor status, Quardious Thomas makes for a less sympathetic poster child for gun reform than Florida's Trayvon Martin. Unlike Martin, who had every right to be where he was the night George Zimmerman decided to pursue him, Thomas, 20, was inside a car that did not belong to him while the owner and everyone else in the Lakeover subdivision was fast asleep.
Sometime after 6 a.m., just before the sun rose July 12, the owner of the car in which Thomas sat shattered the still of the morning with five gunshots fired into the vehicle.
We will never know Thomas' side of the story. It's unclear how many of those bullets hit Thomas. He died later at the hospital. Jackson police officials have declined to pursue charges against the homeowner. It is not illegal to discharge a firearm in the city of Jackson, even in a residential neighborhood. What's more, according to Jackson police officials, the shooting was justified under Mississippi's Castle Doctrine. Under the doctrine, homicide is justifiable if done to resist "any attempt unlawfully to kill such person or to commit any felony upon him." The protection applies to homes, businesses, workplaces and occupied vehicles. In those scenarios, a citizen has no "duty to retreat" before using deadly force.
It's plausible that the shooting of Quardious Thomas was justifiable. It's plausible that, as the homeowner told police, Thomas made a move that, on a dark morning, could have been interpreted as reaching for a gun of his own (police did not recover a weapon from Thomas' body). We do not question the veracity of the homeowner's statement to the police, but we are concerned about the thoroughness of JPD's investigation. How thorough could it have been if, as Horton told us, the decision to not pursue charges was made at the scene by a patrol officer and affirmed by that officer's supervisor?
As far as JPD is concerned, the matter is closed. But JPD is not the only law enforcement agency that can review homicides. Robert Shuler Smith, Hinds County's elected district attorney, recently joined in a lawsuit to block implementation of Mississippi's new open-carry statute that he and other law-enforcement officials say introduces a new wrinkle of uncertainty to crime fighting. Smith's reasoning in opposing the open-carry law was that, in his view, the law is constitutionally vague. In fact, Smith acknowledged the Castle Doctrine's "gray areas" to this publication in 2010 and wondered if the Legislature should not address some of the doctrine's inherent subjectiveness.
Now is the time for the district attorney to flesh out those gray areas. Smith should do what JPD has declined to do: perform a rigorous investigation into the facts of the case and move quickly to make his findings public.