By the time Jayden Myrick allegedly shot and killed a man leaving a Buckhead country club last year, he already had gone through every level of Georgia's juvenile justice system. His path to a murder charge illustrates how badly Georgia's system has failed over the past 25 years. (Video by Ryon Horne and Alan Judd/AJC)

Deadly consequences: Murder case exposes a system’s failings

In a stolen Dodge Charger, four teenage boys cruised past extravagant displays of Atlanta’s luxury and wealth: upscale shopping malls, high-rise condominiums, office towers shimmering in the night. And then, just off Peachtree Road, a canopied enclave of colossal Tudors and Colonials, all leading inexorably toward the private haven of the Capital City Club.

Few Atlanta institutions are more venerable. Over 136 years, the club’s membership roster has included names that shaped the city: Candler, Ansley, Grady, Woodruff. It has hosted American presidents and foreign leaders, professional athletes and movie stars.

Now the Charger’s headlights flashed on two men and two women outside the country club’s gates. It was a balmy Saturday night turning into Sunday morning, just after midnight on July 8, 2018.

Pull over, 17-year-old Jayden Myrick said to the driver.

“I’ll get them.”

■ ■ ■

Twenty-five years ago, Georgia created the most punitive juvenile justice system in the nation, one in which children as young as 13 can be convicted as adults and sentenced to decades in prison.

Jayden Myrick, seen here in a 2018 booking photo, passed through every level of Georgia’s juvenile justice system. 
Photo: Fulton County Sheriff’s Office


Jayden Myrick’s journey through that system illustrates how badly it has failed, a yearlong investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found. This examination of Myrick’s case and dozens of others shows that juvenile justice in Georgia is at once too lenient and too harsh, barely holding many youths accountable even for repeated offenses before confining them in brutal, chaotic juvenile prisons when their crimes turn more menacing.

The system lacks a coordinated effort to confront issues underlying the crimes committed by Georgia teens: extreme poverty, untreated mental illness, the allure of street gangs, the pervasiveness of guns. As a result, while cycling through arrests, court appearances and detention, teenagers like Myrick become even greater threats.

» FROM 2018: ‘Visionary’ didn’t keep promises to help violent teenager

» THIS LIFE: Police shaming of juvenile judge put his life at risk

Despite a quarter-century of tough laws and harsh rhetoric, youths commit roughly the same proportion of violent crimes in Georgia today as they did 25 years ago. Those convicted as adults or sent to juvenile prisons remain the most likely to commit additional offenses when they are released. And, even as mass incarceration of black men has come under scrutiny across the nation, Georgia continues to disproportionately impose the toughest sentences on young African American males. Black teens account for about half of all juvenile arrests in Georgia but four-fifths of the youths convicted as adults.

By the time youths descend that deeply into the system, “they’re so far down the road that it’s hard to get them back,” said Danny Porter, the Gwinnett County district attorney.

And by populating each juvenile prison facility with dozens of teens, all of them with raging hormones and time on their hands, Porter said, “you’ve just designed a gladiator pit.”

The prisons are “more dangerous than the streets,” said Demetra Ford, an Atlanta lawyer who represents juvenile defendants. “Some of those kids actually come out in worse shape than they were going in, both physically and emotionally.”

When one of Ford’s clients was 14, he was assaulted 10 times during his first nine months at the juvenile prison in Augusta. In an 11th attack, a 17-year-old prisoner raped him in a gymnasium restroom. State officials claim in court filings that the boy consented to sex.

The seven prisons — officially, youth development campuses — recorded more than 3,400 physical assaults by inmates on other juveniles from 2015 through 2018. At least 150 more times, youths were sexually assaulted by other prisoners. More than 1,400 times, inmates attacked corrections officers.

During the same period, state records show, authorities investigated about 1,600 misconduct allegations against juvenile corrections officers, including that they physically or emotionally mistreated inmates.

The prisons’ perilous conditions endure despite federal intervention in the late 1990s and reform legislation in 2013 that limited jail time for juveniles who commit petty, nonviolent offenses. On a typical day, the juvenile prisons confine about 325 inmates, a sliver of the more than 10,000 youths on probation or in other ways supervised by the state Department of Juvenile Justice. The inmates are almost all male, almost all African American. The vast majority committed violent offenses: sex crimes, armed robbery, assault, murder.

Jayden Myrick passed through every level of Georgia’s juvenile justice system before his arrest in a crime that underscored Atlanta’s racial and economic divides.

But along the way, at home and at school, in courtrooms and in juvenile detention facilities, opportunities were repeatedly missed to divert Myrick from a violent path. After Myrick burglarized a home, a judge sent him to club meetings rather than detention. In a robbery case, another judge set Myrick free after he served two years of a seven-year sentence. Later, a court employee vouched for Myrick, helping him remain free at a pivotal moment.

The night Myrick pulled up outside the Capital City Club in the stolen Charger, he and three other teenagers were looking for cars to break into, one of them later told the police. But beneath a streetlight just outside the club’s gates, 34-year-old Christian Broder stood with his brother and two friends, waiting for an Uber after a wedding reception in the clubhouse.

Myrick drew a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol and demanded their cellphones, wallets and purses. In just a few seconds, he headed back to the car.

But Broder followed, trying to talk Myrick into returning his companions’ belongings.

Myrick turned to face Broder. He still held the gun in his hand.

“Do you really want to die over this?”

A product of his circumstances

Jauvena Myrick was barely 16 when she became pregnant with her first child. By her 17th birthday, she was a single mother with a baby boy named Jayden.

The child grew up amid constant poverty and continual chaos.

Home was a series of rental houses and apartments: on Ward Drive in southwest Atlanta, on Bull Court in Union City, on Delano Road in South Fulton, where jets approaching the Atlanta airport fly so low, they cast a shadow across the parking lot of the Hickory Park Apartments. Shootings at that complex have left at least three people dead and eight others wounded since 2011. Some victims are memorialized on a Facebook page for Hickory Park’s “survivors.”

At one point, Jayden Myrick lived in South Fulton’s Hickory Park Apartments, where shootings have killed at least three and injured eight more since 2011. (Alyssa Pointer / alyssa.pointer@ajc.com)
Photo: Alyssa Pointer / AJC

When Jayden was 8, Jauvena Myrick confronted the father of one of her other four children at a wing restaurant in College Park. When the police came, she said the man struck her when she asked for money for their child. He said she scratched his arm, ripped his shirt and screamed at him for driving his new girlfriend’s car. Only Jayden’s mother went to jail.

It was just one among many indignities she experienced as Jayden grew up. When her 12-year-old Ford Taurus was impounded, she couldn’t pay the towing fee. After the car ran up more than $5,000 in storage fees, the towing company obtained a court order to put the vehicle up for auction. It sold for $215.

Jauvena Myrick, now 35, began driving a Fulton County school bus in 2016, a job that pays less than $20,000 a year, payroll records show. She sometimes missed Jayden’s court appearances because she couldn’t afford to lose a single day’s wages.

» PART 2: How fear, politics, forged Georgia’s punitive juvenile laws

» PART 3: Georgia’s juvenile prisons: Assaults by guards, strip searches, chaos

She recently declined to comment. In an interview in 2018, she said supervising Jayden sometimes was more than she could manage.

“I was in charge of monitoring him — 24 hours,” she said. “I still had to work, and I still have four other kids. It was very hard.”

Jayden’s father, Cleophus Ward Jr., was so absent that when Jayden first got into trouble, a court employee recorded the boy’s father as “N/A.”

Ward, 38, has a long history of sexual violence against women.

In the spring of 2002, Ward was on probation in a theft case when he abducted a woman at gunpoint and tried to rape her in an abandoned house. She escaped while Ward went out to buy condoms. The following month, he raped two women in separate incidents the same day; he abducted one of them as she walked to church with her children. Two weeks later he groped and tried to rape yet another woman.

Cleophus Ward Jr., Jayden Myrick's father, received a 15-year prison sentence in 2002 for a series of sexual assaults. In 2018, he was arrested for a home invasion burglary in Atlanta. (Georgia Department of Corrections)
Photo: Georgia Department of Corrections

This summer, a Fulton County grand jury indicted Ward in an even older case. It accused him of kidnapping and raping a 19-year-old Spelman College student in March 2000, five months before Jayden’s birth. The charge was based on recently analyzed DNA evidence.

Ward went to prison when Jayden was a toddler. When Ward was released, 15 years later, the boy already had followed his father into a criminal career.

Jay-Man

One Friday afternoon last spring, Deputy Chief Jeff Glazier of the Atlanta police steered his unmarked patrol car into the parking lot of the Crystal Apartments on Mount Zion Road in southwest Atlanta. A few weeks earlier, 15-year-old Jamari Holmes had been found there in the passenger seat of a stolen car, a bullet in his head and an electronic monitoring bracelet on his ankle.

This is Jayden Myrick’s old neighborhood. It’s where he first found trouble on the streets, where he graduated from petty crimes to violent offenses. Myrick followed a pattern that emerged in dozens of cases the Journal-Constitution reviewed.

» RELATED: ‘Second Chance Court’ shows promising results

» FROM 2018: Program claims unblemished record, but questions abound in murder case

“We’ve seen many of our most prolific juvenile offenders continue their crimes after they’re arrested,” Glazier said. “Who’s watching them? Is anyone watching them?”

Holmes was under the supervision of juvenile probation officers when he died. At the same time, a 17-year-old now charged with Holmes’ slaying was wanted on an arrest warrant issued by the Department of Juvenile Justice. Both the victim and the accused killer belonged to gangs, the police said.

Often loosely constituted and with fluid memberships, gangs are involved in much of the crime committed by juveniles, Glazier said. Groups of youths may break into cars, looking for cash, cellphones, laptops and, especially, firearms. About 1,000 guns are stolen from cars in Atlanta every year, Glazier said, but young offenders seem to avoid consequences.

Jujuane Harris’ first arrest was for violating curfew when he was 15. Less than two weeks later, he was charged with aggravated assault. Over the next several months, the police arrested Harris for possession of a handgun by a minor and for taking part in a series of robberies with his mother and his older brother. 

Finally, one year and two days after the curfew violation, 16-year-old Harris and three other gang members ambushed and killed a perceived rival at an Atlanta gas station, firing dozens of shots from an AK-47 assault rifle. The judge who sentenced Harris to life in prison lamented that people in parts of Atlanta were “living in a war zone.”

By age 16, Jhabari Parker had twice robbed people who advertised items for sale online, held up a gas station near Six Flags Over Georgia in Cobb County and carjacked a pizza delivery driver, all at gunpoint. 

Like many other young offenders, Parker had not received adequate mental health treatment.

“The person they caught six months later was not the same guy he was at the time this incident happened,” his mother, Essie Parker, said. “I knew my baby had a problem, so that’s why I wanted to get him the right medication.”

Myrick was 13 when he was arrested the first time, for fighting at school. About the same time, according to police reports, he acquired his first gun, which he carried unholstered in the waistband of his pants. 

He also adopted a persona for the streets: Jayden became Jay-Man.

After Myrick’s first arrest, his mother told the police he belonged to a gang called Billy Bad Ass, which identified as an affiliate of the better-known Bloods. In early 2015, when Myrick was 14, a police report named him as a member of a different gang, YSL-Slime.

The report said Myrick was one of eight gang members who were present when at least one of them had sex with a 14-year-old girl at her apartment, in the same complex where Jamari Holmes was later killed. As the boys left, the girl told the police, they scrawled “YSL-Slime” on her closet door.

Three days later, Myrick and three other teens burglarized a house just a block from his own home, taking three televisions, a laptop and a stereo. One of the other teens had broken into Myrick’s house the previous year.

Myrick admitted to the crime when he appeared before Chief Judge Juliette Scales of the Fulton County Juvenile Court in March 2015.

In an interview, Scales said she did not remember Myrick. She said she relies on prosecutors, defense lawyers and other court officers to provide relevant details in the cases she presides over.

After Jayden Myrick committed a burglary at age 14, a Fulton County Juvenile Court judge placed him on “trial release.” (Bob Andres / robert.andres@ajc.com)
Photo: Bob Andres/robert.andres@ajc.com

“There is evidence shared with the court, and we have to weigh all that evidence we have at the time to make the decision,” Scales said. “I can only think about what I have in front of me.”

In Myrick’s case, Scales followed a prosecutor’s recommendation and placed the boy on “trial release,” court records show. She also ordered Myrick to participate in either of two rehabilitation programs that prosecutors suggested.

One was a homework club; the other, a chess club.

Scales warned Myrick: If he didn’t comply, he could face “graduated sanctions.” Those might include sending apology letters to the burglary’s victims or writing an essay.

Deadly sins

Late the afternoon of April 15, 2015, two teenage boys approached a 39-year-old woman a few steps from her front door in southeast Atlanta. One wore blue athletic shorts, a white shirt and what the woman later described as a fisherman’s hat. The other wore jeans and no shirt. The woman noticed a third boy watching from the corner.

Then she saw the gun.

The boy wearing the hat thrust the pistol into her face.

“Give it up!” he shouted.

The shirtless boy chimed in, a prosecutor said later: “If she doesn’t give it to you, shoot her.”

The woman handed over her purse, and the boys ran.

When the police arrived, the woman was “visibly emotionally shaken,” an officer wrote. But when a detective showed her a photo lineup of possible suspects, she didn’t hesitate in pointing to the boy who wore the fisherman’s hat.

Jayden Myrick.

Barely two weeks had passed since Myrick’s “trial release” in the burglary case. An armed robbery charge would be handled very differently. He was still just 14, but to the state of Georgia, Myrick now was an adult.

When lawmakers created the state’s modern juvenile justice system in 1994, they designated seven crimes — armed robbery among them — that automatically would be prosecuted in adult court if the defendant was 13 or older. These crimes became known as the seven deadly sins.

“The juvenile prisons are ‘more dangerous than the streets. ... Some of those kids actually come out in worse shape than they were going in, both physically and emotionally.” —Demetra Ford, an Atlanta lawyer who represents juvenile defendants

The list of offenses now numbers 10, and each carries a mandatory minimum prison sentence. For armed robbery, it’s 10 years; for some sex crimes, 25. A second conviction can result in a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Myrick spent 10 months in custody before he pleaded guilty in Fulton County Superior Court in February 2016. In exchange for the plea, prosecutors reduced the charge to robbery, essentially forgiving his use of a gun. The reduced charge wasn’t among the deadly sins, so Myrick avoided the mandatory 10-year sentence.

Still, Superior Court Judge Doris Downs ordered Myrick to serve seven years behind bars and eight more years on probation.

Downs counseled Myrick to stay away from the bad elements in prison, to obtain a high school equivalency diploma, to stay off the streets when he finally got home.

“You want to be able to get a job, have a life and, most important, you want to be free and have a family someday, have a life somewhere other than prison,” Downs told him. “You’ve got to make that decision, and I hope you’re going to make it. You are so very young.”

At 15, Myrick was so young he would begin serving his time in one of Georgia’s juvenile prisons, the so-called youth development campuses. There, he was supposed to work on his education, receive counseling and advance toward rehabilitation before completing his sentence in an adult prison after he turned 17.

That’s not at all what happened.

Jayden Myrick was sent to Sumter Youth Development Campus near Americus in March 2016. Over the next 14 months, he got 32 citations for behavior infractions. Twice he led group disturbances a prosecutor later described as riots. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Teenage prison

The Sumter Youth Development Campus sprawls across a former cow pasture on the outskirts of Americus, about 140 miles south of Atlanta. Next door to an adult prison, the facility can house 150 juvenile inmates, each in his own concrete-block cell behind a locked metal door.

From 2015 to 2018, state records show, corrections officers at Sumter documented almost 7,000 serious incidents. Among them were more than 500 assaults of one youth by another; 300 attacks on corrections officers; nearly 900 incidents of “lewd or lascivious” behavior; and more than 2,000 “self-harm” episodes, from superficial cutting to hanging.

Sumter is “a very aggressive environment,” Deborah Singleton, a pretrial services officer in Fulton Superior Court, said in a 2017 hearing on Myrick’s case. “It’s a very large facility with a lot of open spaces, lots of fighting, lots of gang activity.”

Myrick easily blended in.

He arrived March 9, 2016. It’s unclear what services he received other than prescriptions for ADHD and depression. But during the next 14 months, he received 32 citations for behavior infractions. He attempted suicide at least once. Twice he led group disturbances that a prosecutor later described as riots.

“You’ve just designed a gladiator pit.” —Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter, on how dangerous juvenile prisons are for the teens housed there.

And, Singleton said in court, he became “heavily involved” with the Bloods, essentially “running the facility” as the gang’s leader. He even got a crude tattoo of a Bloods symbol on his right cheek.

In a later court appearance, Myrick suggested he had no choice but to participate in the prison’s violence.

“When I first got to Sumter, it was like a beef between different cities down there,” he said. “So I was from Atlanta, and it was Columbus and Savannah versus Atlanta. It was like a war down there. So when I first got down there, I had a fight with some people, and it just kept going on.”

One Saturday afternoon about seven months after Myrick arrived at Sumter, he challenged another youth to fight in a day room.

As the other teen stood, Myrick reached into his pants and brought out a sock stuffed with three bars of soap, a hairbrush and a plastic deodorant tube. Myrick repeatedly struck the other youth, Ephram Marshall, with the weighted sock, inflicting a head wound that took several staples to close.

“Man, I didn’t know what hit me,” Marshall told a prison nurse before he was sent to an emergency room, according to an investigator’s report.

Myrick said only, “I got to fighting with Marshall.”

Authorities charged Myrick with aggravated assault. In court papers, a prosecutor described the sock as a deadly weapon.

In the summer of 2017, Myrick’s time at Sumter was coming to an end. Georgia is one of just three states that consider 17-year-olds to be adults in the criminal justice system, and the Department of Juvenile Justice notified court officials that Myrick would be transferred to an adult prison on his birthday, Aug. 16.

Unless a judge intervened.

A second chance

Despite its mandatory sentences for the so-called deadly sins and other harsh provisions, Georgia’s 1994 juvenile justice law offered one opportunity for mercy: A judge could grant probation to a youth convicted in adult court before he or she moved to adult prison at age 17. This almost never happens, defense lawyers and juvenile justice experts say. The state hasn’t even tracked these releases for at least a decade.

But in August 2017, Myrick’s public defender, Michael Hill, pleaded with Judge Downs to release him on his birthday, 13 days away. Otherwise, Myrick might be in prison until 2023.

When Myrick pleaded guilty in 2016, Hill had described a “family support system” that would help his client go straight after his release. Now, Hill emphasized Myrick’s “aggravated life circumstances”: a father who had just left prison; a mother trying to raise four other children on a school-bus driver’s salary; the depression, anxiety and attention-deficit disorder for which Myrick had only recently been treated in juvenile prison.

Fulton Superior Court Judge Doris L. Downs, who released Myrick before Christian Broder was shot, was the subject of a petition drive by Broder’s family to remove her from office. (FultonCourt.org)
Photo: FultonCourt.org

“His family and he have made some hard choices,” Hill told the judge. “Bad choices, sometimes.”

Hill downplayed Myrick’s aggravated assault case in Sumter County, claiming it was the victim who attacked Myrick, wielding a shiv.

“It was a fight that technically was charged as an aggravated assault,” Hill said.

Neither the judge nor the prosecutor challenged Hill’s account of the assault.

Hill recently declined to comment.

In the hearing, Downs told Myrick that if she released him, he couldn’t break the law, couldn’t carry a gun, couldn’t do drugs.

“Is that something you would want to try to do?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Myrick said. “I got a new sister my mama had, and I feel like that’s going to help me. And my dad just got out of prison, and he don’t want me doing nothing bad, so he’s going to be supervising me.”

Downs clearly was concerned. Court officials had told her about an incident that took place after an earlier hearing, when Myrick and another prisoner assaulted three other youths in a juvenile holding cell at the Fulton County Courthouse. Myrick allegedly choked other boys and forced them to lick the floor and eat food off a toilet seat.

Myrick’s explanation when Downs asked him about the episode: “It was stuff going on down there.”

Nevertheless, Downs set Myrick free on his birthday, ordering him to spend his days at a rehabilitation program called Visions Unlimited. The program’s founder, Gwendolyn Sands, told the judge — without explanation — that Visions had a “1.16 recidivism rate.”

As with the public defender’s depiction of Myrick’s assault case, no one challenged Sands’ claim.

Jayden Myrick, seen here in a 2017 mugshot, returned to jail that year for probation violation, related to posting gang-related material on social media.
Photo: Fulton County Sheriff’s Office

Another second chance

Myrick’s freedom lasted all of three weeks.

Prosecutors, who had strongly opposed Myrick’s release, found social media posts in which he boasted of returning to his old gang and showed off handguns and a shotgun.

“Thug life,” one caption read.

In another caption, Myrick replaced the letter “c” with an “x” to show he wasn’t aligned with the Crips gang: “Jail Made A Nigga Smarter. Now I Baxk To Robbing.”

He added an emoticon of a pistol.

Prosecutors charged Myrick with violating the terms of his probation. When he returned to Downs’ courtroom, Myrick said pictures on Instagram were taken by gang members who also were enrolled in Visions Unlimited.

“It was at the program, and I can’t make them stop going to the program,” he said. “And I managed to get my work done. I wasn’t throwing up gang signs and all of that while I was doing my work. When we left, we happened to take pictures.”

Myrick spent the next 168 days in jail. When Downs released him in February 2018, she sent him back to Visions Unlimited. This time, though, she ordered him to live with Sands, the organization’s founder.

Visions Unlimited, which said it would provide services to Jayden Myrick, operated its programs from the Metropolitan Parkway branch of the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library System. (Alan Judd/ajudd@ajc.com)
Photo: Alan Judd / AJC

Sands had promised to pair Myrick with a “life coach” for “24/7 supervision.” She had said her staff would help him get a high school equivalency degree and work with him on “career readiness.”

But Visions was hardly the comprehensive program that Sands described. It operated out of a borrowed room in a public library branch, had lost its tax-exempt status as a nonprofit foundation and had no apparent source of funding. Myrick never moved in with Sands, a former teacher who had a history of financial trouble. Career readiness consisted of a $10-an-hour laborer’s job on a construction site managed by Sands’ son — who also was Myrick’s life coach.

Myrick continued living at home, in the same neighborhood as before his robbery conviction. In the 2018 interview, Myrick’s mother said her son never received the help that Sands promised.

“She stood in court and said she would let him come to her house,” Jauvena Myrick said. “Every time I asked for resources or anything, she would say it was going to happen. But it never did.”

Neither Downs, who has since retired, nor Sands responded to requests for interviews. Sands said last year that “all services were provided.” 

Myrick still had to contend with the aggravated assault charge in Sumter County, where a series of errors and misunderstandings left the case in limbo for 15 months. His first hearing in juvenile court in Americus, in April 2017, was canceled because his lawyer was not present.

Gwendolyn Sands, seen here in a 2010 mug shot after an arrest on bad-check charges, founded Visions Unlimited, which was to provide services to Jayden Myrick.
Photo: HANDOUT

The judge scheduled, but then postponed, the hearing five more times in 2017. In the meantime, Myrick had turned 17, and prosecutors wanted to try him as an adult.

Myrick didn’t appear in court when his case was called in February 2018. Essential witnesses missed the next court date. When Myrick skipped yet another hearing, Sumter County Superior Court Judge Lisa Jones issued a warrant for his arrest. She also rescheduled the hearing for the following week. A reckoning seemed to be coming.

But the morning of the hearing, Jones’ court clerk received an email from Deborah Singleton, the pretrial services officer from Fulton County who had worked on Myrick’s robbery case.

“Sorry for the delay in sending the court email concerning Jayden Myrick,” Singleton wrote. Myrick “did have some issues when released and was taken back into custody in 2017, but has showed marked improvement since he was released.” At Visions Unlimited, “he is actively involved in the program and is considered a leader.”

Singleton did not directly request leniency for Myrick. However, her account omitted many details of Myrick’s history in Fulton County.

“We’ve seen many of our most prolific juvenile offenders continue their crimes even after they’re arrested. ... Who’s watching them? Is anyone watching them?” —Deputy Chief Jeff Glazier of the Atlanta Police Department

She did not mention Myrick’s gang-related photos on social media. Or how long he spent in jail — 168 days — for violating probation. Or the incident in which he attacked other juveniles in a courthouse holding cell. Or his continued contact with other gang members through Visions Unlimited.

Singleton recently referred questions to her supervisor, who did not respond to requests for comment. In written answers to questions, Chief Judge Robert McBurney said, “The court will not provide comment on the performance of its staff.”

Hours after Singleton’s email arrived, Jones agreed to let prosecutors try Myrick as an adult.

At that moment, Jones could have put Myrick in jail to await trial. Just a week had passed since she ordered his arrest.

Instead, Jones released Myrick to the custody of his “program” in Fulton County: Visions Unlimited.

It was June 25.

Twelve days later, Christian Broder, a restaurant manager from Washington, D.C., would attend the wedding of a family friend in Atlanta, followed by a reception at the Capital City Club. His wife, Molly, would stay at home with their 9-month-old daughter.

Around midnight, Broder, his brother and two friends would leave the party and wait for an Uber just outside the club’s gates.

Christian Broder, 34, attended a wedding reception at the Capital City Club in Atlanta’s Historic Brookhaven neighborhood. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Photo: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Freedom

A few minutes after 10 p.m. on Friday, July 6, 2018, Omara Vereen Woods stopped his white 2014 Dodge Charger at the SA Food Mart in Forest Park, where hand-painted signs on the facade advertise lottery tickets and beer.

As Woods stepped out of his car, two young men approached. One wore a hoodie pulled up over his head, despite the summer heat. Both carried black pistols.

Woods handed over his keys, and the two young men drove off in the Charger. Woods later gave the police a list of items he had left in the car: a cellphone, a tablet computer and a .357 Sig Sauer semi-automatic handgun.

The car gave Jayden Myrick a degree of mobility — of freedom — he may never before have known. All Saturday morning and afternoon, the Charger zipped back and forth across southwest Atlanta, pinging license plate readers deployed by the police on Fairburn Road, on Benjamin E. Mays Drive, on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, back on Fairburn, on MLK again, back on Fairburn yet one more time.

By late Saturday, Myrick had picked up three other teens. Like him, all had been in trouble with the law.

Montavious Lovejoy, 15, had been arrested and placed in diversion about three months earlier for being “ungovernable,” according to court records.

Kevan Reeves, 14, had been arrested three times in the past year: once for shoplifting, once for criminal trespass and another time for theft and battery. Before the last arrest, his aunt told the police that Reeves stole a car and a phone from family members and was “on drugs real bad.”

The third teen, 19-year-old Torrus Fleetwood, had been arrested at least 41 times as a juvenile and five more times since he turned 17, according to a police database and court records. The charges were as petty as loitering and as serious as aggravated assault. He might have been arrested more if he had he not spent a total of 321 days in custody — the equivalent of 10½ months of the three years between his 14th and 17th birthdays.

Fleetwood’s street name was Psycho.

Torrus Fleetwood, one of three teens with Myrick on the night of the shooting, had been arrested at least 41 times as a juvenile and five more times since he turned 17, according to a police database and court records. (Fulton County Sheriff's Office)
Photo: Fulton County Sheriff's Office

Fleetwood drove the Charger late Saturday night as the four teens left their neighborhoods south of downtown, headed toward the more affluent areas to the north. They hoped to find cars to break into, Reeves later told the police. Myrick sat in the front passenger seat, he said, scouting targets.

Just after midnight, a license plate reader recorded their exit from Ga. 400 onto Lenox Road in Buckhead, where office buildings, hotels and apartments loom over the expressway. They drove east past Phipps Plaza and its array of luxury retailers: Armani and Prada, Dior and Valentino, Gucci and Versace.

At 12:09 a.m., they came to a traffic signal on Peachtree Road at the edge of the Atlanta city limits. Turning left onto Club Drive, they entered a neighborhood of multimillion-dollar homes, swimming pools, tennis courts and privately funded police patrols. Residents call it Historic Brookhaven.

The stolen car turned once more, onto a short street that ends at the gates of the Capital City Club.

A fieldstone and wood-frame guardhouse stands at the gates on West Brookhaven Drive. But no one was on duty as Christian Broder waited for an Uber just outside at the gates with his brother, Nicholas, who lives in Atlanta, and their friends Megan Carty and Sarah Driscoll of San Diego. Actually, it was the second ride they had summoned; all four of them couldn’t fit into the first car.

When Myrick drew the gun, the women handed over their purses. Nicholas Broder gave Myrick his wallet and his cellphone.

Satisfied, Myrick headed back to the car. But Christian Broder trailed behind him.

They were the same height, 6 feet, but Broder outweighed Myrick by more than 50 pounds. Maybe Broder thought he could intimidate Myrick.

Or maybe he just thought he could reason with him. They faced each other for a tense moment.

Then, according to the police, Myrick pulled the trigger.

Broder, gravely wounded with a shot to the abdomen, collapsed against the Charger’s passenger-side rear fender, leaving a smear of his blood on the white paint.

‘He’s been shot’

Jaime Griffon and her husband were driving home, the windows down so they could feel the night air. As they pulled up to a stop sign outside the Capital City Club, a loud crack pierced the stillness.

“What just happened?” Griffon asked.

Before her husband could answer, a woman ran toward their car, screaming: “Call 911! He’s been shot!”

As Griffon dialed the emergency line, she spotted several people at the club’s gates, tending to a man on the ground. No one knew where the shooter was, but neighbors streamed out of their houses and other wedding guests emerged from the country club.

Time seemed to slow.

“It felt like, oh, my God, somebody needs to get here right now,” Griffon said. “They were traumatized. In that moment, they definitely needed everybody who came out and helped them.”

Officer Brittany Williams of the Atlanta police arrived one minute after Griffon called 911. She applied pressure to the wound in Broder’s abdomen but told a police dispatcher he was “gasping for air.”

Williams also broadcast the first description of the shooter: a young black male wearing a hoodie pulled up over his head.

Surgeons at Piedmont Hospital removed parts of Broder’s small bowel and colon and performed several procedures to reduce muscle swelling that restricted blood flow. But Broder developed sepsis, an infection of the blood. His heart began beating in irregular patterns. A lack of oxygen damaged his brain.

Twelve days after the shooting, Broder was flown home to Washington, where doctors hoped to perform bowel transplant surgery. It was too late. Broder died shortly after arriving at a Washington hospital.

A tantalizing clue

Myrick stayed out all night. He attended a party in South Fulton, showing off the stolen Charger and two handguns. He also went shopping at Walmart.

Both stops would become far more significant than Myrick might have imagined.

At first, the police didn’t have much to work with, beyond the tag number of the stolen getaway car. Then the car turned up in South Fulton, ditched behind an abandoned house.

Detectives found identification cards belonging to the robbery victims. And in the back seat, they discovered a receipt from a Walmart in Morrow. It was time stamped at 4 a.m., about four hours after the shooting.

When they checked surveillance video from the store’s parking lot, the detectives spotted four teenagers arriving and leaving in the stolen car.

Other detectives traced the cellphones taken from the robbery victims and the owner of the Charger. Several calls had been made to a number that turned out to be the phone of an 18-year-old girl in East Point. She told detectives a friend called her from a party with a phone borrowed from another acquaintance. She only knew the acquaintance by his street name: Jay-Man.

The girl had given detectives a false name for the friend who called her, so they questioned her again. This time, she said the phone her friend used belonged to someone named Jayden.

She didn’t know Jayden’s last name. But she offered a tantalizing clue: Jayden had called her once — from the Fulton County Jail.

In the jail’s database of outgoing calls, detectives found the girl’s number, along with the name of the prisoner who called her, a prisoner whose mug shot matched images from the Walmart surveillance video.

Jayden Myrick.

When a detective called Myrick’s cellphone, the person who picked up would not speak. Myrick called back a few seconds later, and the detective said they needed to talk. Myrick said he had an appointment. The detective said he would drive him.

About two hours later, Myrick walked up to two detectives waiting at a gas station on Roosevelt Highway. They already had a warrant for his arrest.

Jayden Myrick, shown in court in September 2018, is accused of fatally shooting Christian Broder, 34, outside the Capital City Club in Atlanta in July 2018. (WSB TV Channel 2 Action News)

‘I have changed’

Myrick is charged with murder, armed robbery, participation in criminal gang activity and other crimes. He has pleaded not guilty and has been held without bond since last year. No trial date has been set.

Myrick’s court-appointed lawyer, Mary Elizabeth Snyder, declined to comment. Myrick has said nothing in public since his arrest.

Months before the shooting, as he tried to persuade a judge not to send him to jail for a probation violation, Myrick made an impassioned case for freedom.

“I want y’all to know that I have changed in some ways,” Myrick said. He was working toward his high school equivalency degree, he said, and planned to renounce his old gang affiliation by having his facial tattoo removed.

In a couple of years, “I should have my GED, I should have my tattoos removed or covered up, and I should be better,” he said. “I shouldn’t have to worry about seeing people in the gang. I will probably have my own house after I have a job, and I wouldn’t have to deal with gang people.”

Myrick’s mother and father sat in the courtroom as he pledged to break the cycles of poverty and crime they embodied.

Five days later, Myrick’s father, Cleophus Ward, was arrested for a home invasion burglary in Atlanta. Twice more in the following months, Ward was charged with probation violations.

Then, three weeks after Myrick’s arrest in the murder case, Ward led the police on a high-speed chase in a stolen car. Officers took him into custody on an expressway exit ramp at Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

“Ward advised he stole the vehicle,” the arresting officer wrote, “because he was trying to get away from the ‘feds’ because they were trying to kill him.”

The police took Ward to the Fulton County Jail. Father and son were together under the same roof.

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Christian Broder with his wife, Molly, and infant daughter. The 34-year-old D.C.-area restaurant general manager was shot in July 2018 outside the Capital City Club in Brookhaven and later died. (Claire Harvey Photography)
Photo: Claire Harvey Photography

Victim of Brookhaven shooting spent teen years in Atlanta area 

Christian Broder's last social media post celebrated three of his passions: wine, food and his family. Broder, a restaurant manager and sommelier from Washington, shared a photo on Instagram of an Italian white, Sicilian anchovies and his wife, Molly. 

A little more than two weeks later, Broder traveled to Atlanta for the wedding of a family friend. His wife stayed home with their 9-month-old daughter. 

Early on July 8, 2018, as he left the wedding with his brother and two friends, Broder was shot in the abdomen during a robbery outside the Capital City Club in Atlanta's Historic Brookhaven neighborhood. Broder, 34, died 12 days later. 

His death sparked outrage after news reports that his accused killer, Jayden Myrick, then 17, was a repeat juvenile offender who had been released after serving two years of a seven-year sentence for robbing an Atlanta woman at gunpoint. 

Broder's family started a petition drive seeking to remove Fulton County Superior Court Judge Doris Downs, who had released Myrick. Downs later went on senior-judge status, with a reduced caseload. 

Broder was born in Texas and moved with his family to the Atlanta area when he was 13. He attended Woodward Academy, the private school in College Park, and then the College of Charleston. He managed several locations of a Washington restaurant owned by his brother-in-law. 

Earlier this year, Molly Broder sued the Capital City Club, claiming it failed to take reasonable steps to ensure security outside its gates. The club responded that Broder was on a public street at the time of the shooting, not on its property. 

Members of Broder's family declined to be interviewed, in part to avoid jeopardizing the criminal case against Myrick.

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