Attorneys for Secoriea Turner parents: Atlanta culpable in 8-year-old’s death

Secoriea Turner’s mother Charmaine Turner speaks during a press conference at the Fulton County Courthouse on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. The conference followed a meeting between the parents of 8-year-old Secoriea Turner, killed during protests over the death of Rayshard Brooks, and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. Secoriea Turner’s parents and their attorneys spoke. (Christine Tannous / christine.tannous@ajc.com)

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Secoriea Turner’s mother Charmaine Turner speaks during a press conference at the Fulton County Courthouse on Tuesday, Aug. 10, 2021. The conference followed a meeting between the parents of 8-year-old Secoriea Turner, killed during protests over the death of Rayshard Brooks, and Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. Secoriea Turner’s parents and their attorneys spoke. (Christine Tannous / christine.tannous@ajc.com)

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

City and police leaders did nothing to stop armed young men who, for weeks, controlled a southwest Atlanta intersection where Secoriea Turner was shot and killed, attorneys for the 8-year-old girl’s parents told reporters Tuesday.

“They did know and they chose to turn a blind eye to it and allowed this to happen,” lawyer Mawuli Davis said after meeting with Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. She is preparing indictments against two alleged gang members charged in last year’s shooting death of the rising third grader.

The meeting confirmed that “failures by the city of Atlanta are a major reason why this family lost their beautiful daughter,” attorney Shean Williams said. “What we believe will come out from the criminal investigation will support our civil case against the city.”

ExploreGang link to Turner killing brings new scrutiny to city response

In their lawsuit, Turner’s parents allege Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and other city leaders were “negligent in their duties by failing to remove armed vigilantes who had gathered alongside peaceful protesters at the Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks was shot and killed.”

“Secoriea should be here,” her mother, Charmaine Turner, said Tuesday. “We are encouraged by the investigation. We are grieving and we will continue to fight.”

Secoriea was in the back seat of a Jeep driven by a family friend when she was shot to death on July 4, 2020. The Jeep had attempted to go around a barricade at University Avenue and Pryor Road that the GBI says was controlled by members and affiliates of the Bloods street gang who had mobilized in support of Brooks. Investigators say Brooks was affiliated with the gang. Lawyers for Brooks’ relatives have said the family has “no knowledge or information regarding any alleged gang affiliation of Rayshard Brooks.”

Julian Conley, 19, arrested and charged with murder less than two weeks after Secoriea was shot to death, fired an AR-15 style rifle at the Jeep, striking the side and back of the vehicle, according to a GBI arrest warrant. Secoriea was struck in the head by a projectile, the warrant states.

Last week, Jerrion McKinney, 23, was arrested and charged with murder, four counts of aggravated assault, pointing a gun or pistol at another and 12 gang-related offenses. The GBI said McKinney chased the the Jeep down the road as it raced to a local hospital where Secoriea would later be pronounced dead.

Details in the warrants have brought new scrutiny to the city’s handling of volatile protests that originated at the Wendy’s on University following the police shooting of Brooks, who fought with officers as they attempted to arrest him for a suspected DUI. Brooks was shot after grabbing one officer’s Taser and aiming it at another.

The GBI alleges members of the Bloods were also involved in torching the Wendy’s but were allowed to operate in an autonomous zone, off-limits to Atlanta police officers.

ExploreAtlanta Wendy’s protesters decry Secoriea Turner’s killing

“Upon receiving information regarding barricades and armed protesters in the area of University Avenue and Pryor Road, APD began working to confirm this information and to determine the best response to peacefully resolve the issues,” Atlanta police said in a statement. “During this process, individuals made the decision to fire into a vehicle occupied by innocent citizens, resulting in the death of 8-year-old Secoriea Turner.”

Bottoms told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in July 2020 that she had wanted the area cleared weeks earlier but was dissuaded by City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd, who wanted to negotiate with protestors. Those negotiations eventually broke down, and on June 23, 2020, police removed the barricades. Sheperd declined comment.

ExploreMayor says councilmember interceded on armed protesters’ behalf

The mayor said she drove through the area a few times after that and saw no signs of the armed men.

Attorneys for Secoriea’s parents say the city abdicated its responsibility to protect the citizenry.

“Unless you were either ignorant or deliberately indifferent you should’ve known about this from an APD and city official perspective,” Williams said. “ They should’ve done something way before Secoriea and her mother entered that roadway.”

The night Secoriea was shot, several gang members had hours earlier pointed guns at a MARTA bus and its driver as the vehicle approached the barricade, according to the GBI.

Also that night, the GBI says, the suspects charged in the shooting were involved in a separate incident involving motorists stopped at gunpoint. McKinney, the GBI says, told a person in the car he was “being disrespectful” and pointed a shotgun at him.

Three others surrounded the vehicle and forced it to turn around, according to the warrant. After the car pulled into a nearby parking lot to head away from the scene, Conley approached and pointed his rifle at the people inside, the GBI says.

“That a MARTA bus would have to stop and get permission to pass through a city of Atlanta street just baffles the mind about what was going on there, not only that night but in the days leading up to this,” Davis said. “This was not a singular event that happened on July 4. This was an ongoing seizure of a city of Atlanta street by what the DA has now described as gang members.”

Bottoms told the AJC last week she was not aware of any gang presence in the area.

STORY SO FAR

Secoriea Turner was shot July 4, 2020, near the now-demolished Wendy’s where Rayshard Brooks had been killed by an Atlanta police officer less than a month earlier. Julian Conley, 19 at the time, was arrested less than two weeks later by Atlanta police. He was initially charged with murder and three counts of aggravated assault. In June, Turner’s family filed a lawsuit against Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Atlanta police Chief Rodney Bryant, City Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd and Wendy’s International. The lawsuit accuses city officials of “failing to remove armed vigilantes” who took over the area near the restaurant after Brooks’ death. Fulton County DA Fani Willis asked the GBI to join the investigation two months ago. On Aug. 4, Jerrion McKinney, 23, was charged with felony murder and other offenses. The arrest warrants states McKinney and Conley were members of the Bloods street gang.