Decatur, GA—A Georgia man was killed at his apartment complex because the property’s owners ignored the grim findings of a report detailing the area’s crime, an attorney for the man’s family told jurors as trial opened against the owners and complex managers Monday. Alexis v. Riverstone Residential, et al., 14A55296E5.
“The evidence will show the defendants knew of a widespread crime problem at their apartment complex. The evidence will also show that they made a choice not to fix that problem, and instead to hide that problem from the rest of us,” The Stoddard Firm’s Matthew Stoddard told jurors in describing a years-long history of crime surrounding the Bradford Gwinnett Apartments & Townhomes before the April 2014 shooting death of Kevin Pierre.
Pierre, 22, was gunned down in a common area of the Norcross, Georgia apartment complex where he and his mother lived. The shooting stemmed from a fight that did not involve Pierre and which began on Beaver Springs Lane, a public road alongside the complex’s property.
Two men were ultimately indicted for the fatal shooting, according to published reports.
However, Stoddard told jurors Monday that the complex’s owners, managers, and affiliates, including Enterprise Community Asset Management and Riverstone Residential LLC, bore responsibility for Pierre’s death by failing to properly secure the complex and take steps to reduce violent crime that spilled onto the property.
Stoddard told jurors a market report commissioned by the owners in their assessment of the federally subsidized housing complex more than three years before Pierre was shot detailed nighttime loitering by groups of non-residents the report linked to the area’s crime. Stoddard said the report’s authors recommended a host of solutions to better secure the complex and reduce its crime rate, including improved fencing, nighttime patrols, and experienced management.
“What did [the owners] do?” Stoddard asked. “Nothing. They put it in a drawer.”
Stoddard detailed a spate of crimes on the complex in the weeks before Pierre’s death. But, despite these issues, Stoddard said the complex was operating without an on-site manager or assistant manager when the shooting occurred. “Instead of fixing the property, [the owners] chose to think of the property as cursed, and of resident safety as hopeless,” Stoddard said.
However, the defendants contend they are not liable for Pierre’s death because the shooting did not originate on the apartment grounds. "The simple, unmistakable fact is [that] this didn’t happen on our property,” Weinberg Wheeler Hudgins Gunn & Dial’s Mark Johnson told jurors during Monday’s openings. “And that simple truth means we cannot be held liable in this case.”
Johnson detailed the fight, which began on Beaver Springs Lane, running along the complex’s boundary, and the subsequent shots fired from a van as it fled the scene. One of those bullets is believed to have fatally struck Pierre in the back.
Johnson contended the defendants’ hands were tied with regard to security on Beaver Springs Lane, a public access road under Gwinnett County’s jurisdiction. “We couldn’t put up a gate on Beaver Springs Lane,” he said. “We couldn’t move a parked car, we couldn’t go out there last week and shovel snow off that road. It’s not our road.”
Johnson said, the market report’s findings were largely immaterial because the case came down to where the shooting originated. “This is about where crime happened on property,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about that issue, if you don’t own it, don’t maintain it, don’t have control over it, and don’t police it, you can’t be responsible for what happens on it.”
The case is expected to go to the jury next week.
CVN will record the trial and provide on-going coverage via its news page.
Email Arlin Crisco at email@example.com.
The plaintiffs are represented by The Stoddard Firm’s Matthew Stoddard and Bondurant Mixson & Elmore’s Naveen Ramachandrappa and Michael Terry.
The defendants are represented by Weinberg, Wheeler, Hudgins, Gunn & Dial’s Mark Johnson and Jackson Dial.
CVN will record the trial gavel-to-gavel and publish video on demand as soon as possible after the verdict.
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