Illegal machine gun fired on New Year’s Eve sends Alabama man to prison for 10 years

Published 10:01 am Wednesday, September 20, 2023

An Alabama man was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison — the maximum sentence allowed under federal law — for illegally possessing a machine gun that he fired during New Year’s Eve celebrations in downtown Mobile.

According to court documents and evidence presented at his sentencing hearing, Thomas Earl Thomas, Jr., 23, fired a Glock .40 caliber pistol, which was illegally modified with a machine gun-conversion device and equipped with an extended magazine, into a crowd of revelers on Dauphin Street during Mobile’s New Year’s Eve celebrations on December 31, 2022. The device attached to Thomas’s illegal weapon, commonly referred to as a “Glock switch,” converted the firearm from a semiautomatic pistol to a fully automatic machine gun. Surveillance video showed Thomas firing multiple rounds from the firearm, which killed one victim, severely injured eight others, and caused substantial damage to nearby businesses.

Mobile police and paramedics tended to the wounded victims on-scene, who ranged from age 17 to age 57. Detectives also canvassed the scene, recovering 22 fired .40 caliber shell casings, four damaged bullets, three bullet jacket fragments, and two lead fragments, among other evidence. Detectives conducted two recorded interviews of Thomas, who admitted that he lied about several key facts during the interviews. Specifically, Thomas admitted that he lied about not having a gun or shooting it on Dauphin Street. Evidence extracted from Thomas’s cell phone linked him to the firearm, which he had purchased at a gun show in Mobile on December 10, 2022. Thomas admitted that he knew the gun had later been illegally modified with a machine gun-conversion device.

An expert with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives examined and test fired Thomas’s illegal weapon. When equipped with the machine gun-conversion device, the firearm expelled multiple rounds of ammunition with a single pull of the trigger. Both the firearm and the machine gun-conversion device are illegal under federal law.

“Wantonly shooting into an innocent crowd, Thomas made his crime even more dangerous and serious by using an illegal machine gun,” said U.S. Attorney Sean P. Costello. “Working with our federal, state and local partners, we will do everything we can to protect our community by taking these illegal weapons off the street, and putting the criminals who use them in prison.”

Marcus Watson, Special Agent in Charge of the ATF’s Nashville Field Division, said, “Citizens should be able to attend celebratory events without the fear and grim reality of possibly losing their lives. This individual knowingly and recklessly discharged a firearm that contained a machine gun-conversion device, known as a ‘Glock switch,’ into a crowd of innocent people. The ATF along with our state, local, and federal partners will continue to utilize every resource that we have in the pursuit of justice for individuals who make the conscious effort to perpetuate violence in the communities that we serve.”

In addition to the 10-year prison sentence, Chief United States District Judge Jeffrey U. Beaverstock ordered Thomas to serve a three-year term of supervised release upon his release from prison, during which time he will receive treatment for substance abuse and mental health. The court did not impose a fine, but Judge Beaverstock ordered Thomas to pay $100 in special assessments and forfeited Thomas’s illegal weapon to the United States.

Thomas faces several pending charges in the Mobile County District Court stemming from this incident, including intentional murder, first-degree assault, and shooting a firearm into occupied and unoccupied buildings and vehicles. He is presumed innocent in that case until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

U.S. Attorney Sean P. Costello of the Southern District of Alabama made the announcement.

The ATF and the Mobile Police Department investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin Roller prosecuted the case on behalf of the United States.