Clayton County police Lt. Scott Stubbs talks on his cell phone while investigating an accident involving a fellow police officer in a parking lot at the intersection of Old Dixie Road and Frontage Road Wednesday afternoon. The injured officer was a member of the SMASH unit, of which Stubbs is the commander.
FOREST PARK — A massive manhunt continued Thursday as U.S. Marshals, Clayton County Police and sheriff’s deputies searched for burglary suspect Thomas Paige.
Clayton County Police Officer Michael Hooks was in serious condition at Atlanta Medical Center after police said Paige knocked the officer into the air with his black pickup truck as the suspect was trying to escape Wednesday. Hooks was airlifted to the hospital.
Hooks “is improving,” Clayton County police spokesman Eddie Soto said Thursday, declining to give further details.
Clayton Police Maj. Rick Webster said the Strategic Methods Against Street Harms unit responded to a burglary in progress at 12:08 p.m., near a vacant lot that once housed a Kmart store at 6200 Frontage Road in Forest Park.
“Two subjects fled when they saw the officers arriving,” Webster said. “One of the subjects was caught.”
Police arrested one man at the scene, but did not identify him. They did, however, identify the one they are looking for — Paige, 36, of Hampton, who they say was last seen wearing all black and a black stocking cap.
Paige has a lengthy criminal history. In 1998, he was charged with entering auto, criminal trespassing, theft by taking, and obstruction of an officer. In 1999, he was charged with two counts of criminal trespassing.
Clayton Police have charged Paige with aggravated assault, aggravated battery, obstruction with violence against an officer, hit and run, reckless driving, loitering and prowling.
“We need the public’s help to give us the whereabouts of this suspect,” Webster said, adding that Paige is “a black male, 6 feet 4 inches tall, weighing between 250 to 280 pounds. He may be a fugitive from another jurisdiction.”
Webster said police believe the men were stealing metal from behind the old Kmart building.
“Officer Hooks was checking the perimeter of the building when he observed a vehicle fleeing from the rear of the business,” Clayton County Police Detective A. Melvin said in the arrest warrant. “Several other officers gave [Paige] instructions and commands to stop but [Paige] refused to obey the lawful commands. He instead used his vehicle offensively and struck officer Hooks with that vehicle. He then continued out of the parking lot, where he abandoned the vehicle.”
The officers fired at the suspects, but there was no evidence inside the truck that Paige had been hit, Webster said.
Melvin said the black Chevrolet Silverado pick up truck with Georgia tag AUW5178 is registered to Paige.
Soto said Hooks is a five-year veteran of the agency and a member of the SMASH unit.
“The officer was talking when he was taken to the hospital,” Webster said. “That’s always a good sign.”
The old Kmart parking lot was barricaded with concrete barriers, forcing the suspect to drive the black pickup truck through some high weeds, he said.
“The bumper of the truck got caught in some weeds,” Webster added. Police located the truck near the scene.
Austin Rodriguez works at the Tortas Ahogadas Jalisco Mexican restaurant adjacent to the old Kmart parking lot.
“I was washing dishes at my job when I saw all the police going down the street,” Rodriguez said. “I saw them put [the officer] on the stretcher. I saw the K-9 dogs running toward the highway.”
Webster said police found some identification in the truck.
“We don’t believe the truck was stolen,” he said. “It has not come back stolen.”
The police major said the passenger in the pickup truck was caught when he ran into the southwest area of the woodline surrounding the vacant parking lot.
Police used a helicopter to search from the air, while officers patrolled the area near the intersection of Old Dixie Highway and Frontage Road.
Webster said police believe the suspects were armed with guns and that they may have committed a similar crime before.
Police searched nearby apartment complexes and talked with witnesses at the scene.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, along with the U.S. Marshals, the Clayton County Sheriff’s office deputies and sheriff’s K-9 unit were among the large police presence at the scene.
The SMASH unit is in the middle of “Operation Safe Holiday.” It includes patrolling various high-crime neighborhoods, conducting road blocks and an emphasis on burglaries in progress, according to Lt. Scott Stubbs, the SMASH unit commander.