Clayton County Senior Assistant District Attorney Jeff Gore and District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson introduce boxes of evidence as witness Tony Whaley begins to testify Wednesday in the case against Thomas Paige. (Staff Photo: Kathy Jefcoats)
JONESBORO —The frantic, repeated calls of “officer down” to radio dispatch weren’t uttered by just any police officer Dec. 12, 2012.
The man behind those words no public safety personnel wants to hear or say was Clayton County police Officer Phong Nguyen.
The man in uniform broken and bleeding on the ground was his brother-in-law, fellow Officer Michael Hooks.
Prosecutors allege Hooks was deliberately hit by a fleeing burglary suspect who had spent the months before the incident stealing heavy equipment for scrap metal. He underwent several surgeries during his recovery and has returned to work.
Thomas Areeco Paige, 38, of Hampton faces more than 150 years in prison if convicted on all 14 counts in the case against him, including multiple counts of aggravated assault and aggravated battery on police officers.
Police said Paige and Jabari Akil Jackson were on Frontage Road near Old Dixie Highway stealing metal through a cut in the fence near the old Kmart building when officers responded to a burglary in progress.
Hooks and other officers responded and both men fled — Paige in his pick-up truck, Jackson on foot. Jackson was caught at the scene but Paige eluded capture for about a week.
Sgt. Michael Lowe testified Wednesday that he witnessed Paige’s truck hit Hooks.
“He went 15-20 feet in the air and bounced, for lack of a better word, like a basketball,” said Lowe. “I could hear the vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed. I heard the thump of the vehicle hitting Officer Hooks.”
Lowe then helped decipher 15 minutes of a 90-minute recording of radio calls made to police dispatchers that day and played for the jury. Under direct-examination by Clayton County District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson, Lowe identified Nguyen as the man behind the voice shouting, “officer down,” into his microphone.
Lowe said Paige crashed his truck after hitting Hooks and took off on foot.
According to Georgia Department of Corrections, Paige has a long criminal history. He was most recently paroled in 2009 after serving two years for burglary, false report of a crime, loitering, possession of tools to commit a crime and obstruction of an officer.
His prior prison terms were four months in 2001, a year from 2002 to 2003 and two years from 2004 to 2006. His prior convictions include theft by receiving stolen property and interference with government property.