Deputy cleared in shooting death of teen

The Cherokee County deputy who shot and killed a 16-year-old during a standoff won't face any criminal charges, according to a report released Monday by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Deputy Jason Yarbrough, "felt there was a deadly threat toward the negotiators and he had an obligation to protect them" on the evening of May 1, according to a 700-plus-page report obtained by the AJC.

Yarbrough then fired one shot, striking Andrew Messina, a sophomore at Etowah High School, in the chest, the report states. Andrew died after being transported to WellStar Kennestone Hospital. It was the first officer-involved shooting in the 15-year history of the Cherokee County Sheriff's Office SWAT team, Sheriff Roger Garrison told the AJC.

What started as a teenager in trouble at school quickly escalated after the teen spoke with his father, the report states. Andrew got his father's .357 pistol and pointed it at himself and his mother, who then called 911.

Deputies responded to the Eagle Watch subdivision in the Towne Lake community and soon called in backup support, including trained negotiators, Garrison told the AJC. While deputies tried to talk Andrew out of the home, the teenager barricaded himself inside and was seen drinking alcohol and dumping it inside the home.

Videos from Andrew's cell phone show the teen throwing alcohol bottles and threatening to set the house on fire as deputies, just steps from the front door outside the home, tried to convince the teen to surrender.

"They were doing the very best they could do," Garrison said by telephone Monday afternoon. "The officers worked feverishly to save that child's life."

Inside the home, an emotionally distraught teen made a cell phone video of himself pointing the gun to his head and saying goodbye to his friends. That video, also reviewed by the GBI and released Monday, portrayed a suicidal teen, sobbing.

"That 16-year-old had access to a weapon," Garrison said. "Children should not have access to weapons and ammunition."

A little more than an hour later, Andrew was shot and killed seconds after he pointed his gun at hostage negotiators. The slight and bespectacled teen was wearing a John Lennon T-shirt and blue shorts the day he died, according to 911 tapes.

The GBI immediately began investigating the officer-involved shooting, compiling a massive report that was given to Cherokee County District Attorney Garry Moss and Garrison late last month. Moss has previously declined comment on the case, but told the GBI he found no evidence to support the arrest and prosecution of Yarbrough, the report states.

Andrew's parents received a copy of the report late last week. A spokesperson for the Messina family told Channel 2 Action News the family respects the DA's decision.

Yarbrough, who had been on paid administrative leave since the shooting, will return to work later this week, Garrison said.