By Joe Johnson
Two wrongful death lawsuits were recently filed against the owner and management company of an eastside apartment complex in connection with the fatal shooting of one of its residents last summer.
The lawsuits claim that Valdosta-based Ashton Clarke L.P. and Ambling Management Co., LLC, failed to provide sufficient security at Clarke Gardens where, on the night of July 22, 25-year-old Auriel “Thumpa” Callaway was walking in a common area with her 3-year-old son Mason when gunfire erupted from another location inside the complex.
“Tragically, stray bullets from the gunfire went throughout the complex, and one or more tore into Ms. Callaway,” according to a lawsuit filed March 19 in Clarke County Superior Court by Callaway’s mother, Lashanda Callaway, in her capacity as administrator of her daughter’s estate and conservator for Mason Shamar Callaway, her deceased daughter's son.
The second lawsuit against Ashton Clarke was filed March 20, by Justyn Aikens, father of the unborn child that Callaway was carrying when she was killed.
The five-month-old fetus, referred to in the lawsuit as “Baby Girl Aikens,” did not survive the shooting.
Both lawsuits, which request jury trials and seek actual and punitive damages.
Both civil actions paint a portrait of Clarke Gardens as being a dangerous place for residents and visitors because of criminal activity that the owner of the complex failed to address.
“The Clarke Gardens Apartment Complex was poorly maintained, and prior to the shooting event at issue, was a haven for violent criminal activity like the type perpetrated on the deceased,” Lashanda Callaway’s lawsuit alleges.
The complex had “no meaningful security” even though its owner was duty-bound to, among other things, institute reasonable security measures, eject dangerous individuals capable of harming others, conduct reasonable inspections to discover dangerous conditions, and de-escalate reasonably foreseeable growing violence that could lead to severe injury or death.
According to Athens-Clarke County police, Callaway was walking with her son outside their home when gunshots rang out from a fight nearby in the complex and Callaway was killed by a bullet as she tried to rush her son to safety.
Although there reportedly were dozens of spent bullet casings at the scene, police quickly identified and arrested the alleged shooter who allegedly killed Callaway as 26-year-old Kiresa Shanice Cooper, also of Clarke Gardens, who was subsequently charged by a grand jury with malice and felony murder, feticide, four counts of aggravated assault, and six counts of possession of a firearm while in the commission of a felony, according to the indictment that was filed Tuesday in Clarke County Superior Court.
Two of the aggravated assault charges were from Cooper allegedly firing her gun in the direction of two other females, according to the indictment
Cooper’s sister, Kadrica Yearby told Classic City News that in conversations at the jail, Cooper admitted to firing a gun in the air in an attempt to break up fighting. She said she could not understand how the bullet that killed Callaway could be linked to her sister’s gun when there were more than 50 spent casings at the scene.
The police investigation did not end with Cooper’s arrest. They said that events surrounding the deadly shooting involved criminal gang activity.
Earlier this month, police arrested 26-year-old Martin Court resident Tre Almonte Foster on warrants charging him with reckless conduct, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of a controlled substance, and violating the state Street Gang Terrorism and Prevention Act.
Prior to that, on Feb. 26, 20-year-old Jerimirra Sheats was also arrested on warrants issued as part of the Callaway shooting death investigation.
The warrants charged the Summerbrook Circle resident with possession with intent to distribute cocaine, possession with intent to distribute marijuana, possession of drugs near public housing, theft by possession of stolen property, possession of a firearm during the commission of certain felonies, and two counts of violating the criminal street gang act.
Warrants on similar charges were outstanding for other suspects, according to Athens-Clarke County police Capt. Christopher Nichols.
The case is still being actively investigated, said Nichols, who is commanding officer of the Criminal Investigations Division. “Additional charges have resulted from other people’s actions that night, even though they may not have been the person that fired the deadly shot.”
Nichols added, “By charging these additional persons, the police department reaffirms its stance that we will not tolerate unlawful gun possession and usage or gang violence.”
The two lawsuits also name several “John Does” as defendants.
Lashanda Callaway’s lawsuit seeks, on her grandson’s behalf full compensation for the value of his mother’s life, had she lived.
Justyn Aikens’ lawsuit seeks compensation for the full value of his deceased daughter, who had a reasonable life expectancy of 70 years, had she been born.
The lawsuits also seek punitive damages that would deter the defendants from engaging in similar acts in the future.