Family of 8-year-old girl slain during Rayshard Brooks protests sues Atlanta leaders and Wendy's

The family of Secoriea Turner, the 8-year-old fatally shot during summer protests in Atlanta last year, is suing the city, alleging the mayor, police chief and a councilwoman permitted the "lawlessness, violence and vigilantism" that led to the girl's death. By Eliott C. McLaughlin and Jason Morris, CNN

(CNN) -- The family of Secoriea Turner, the 8-year-old fatally shot during summer protests in Atlanta last year, is suing the city, alleging the mayor, police chief and a councilwoman permitted the "lawlessness, violence and vigilantism" that led to the girl's death.

The parents briefly spoke Monday to reporters about their little cheerleader and soccer player, who was a rising third grader and star student at a charter academy in Atlanta's Bankhead neighborhood.

"None of what we're doing will ever bring our baby back. Her life is priceless," said her mother, Charmaine Turner. "We're forced to live through this day by day. We deserve justice. Someone needs to be held accountable."

Added the girl's father, Secoriey Williamson, "My daughter should be here with us. We (aren't) supposed to be here. In a million years, we don't expect to be here."

Also named in the suit is Wendy's International. An Atlanta police officer shot and killed Rayshard Brooks at one of the fast food chain's locations in south Atlanta, and the family alleges the company had a duty to keep the property safe during the ensuing demonstrations.

The 36-page complaint filed Monday alleges numerous failings by city leaders, including that they were negligent in failing to respond to armed vigilantes who had gathered alongside peaceful protesters at the Wendy's.

"But for Defendants' lack of intervening to control or dismantle the nuisance of an armed barricade that obstructed the roads and the violence that surrounded it, Secoriea would still have her life today," the lawsuit states.

Attorney: City's inaction led to lawsuit

Secoriea was riding home from a family gathering in a vehicle with her mother and a friend on July 4, police said. As protests over Brooks' killing unfolded, the driver sought to turn around near the Wendy's and attempted to enter a parking lot where the vigilantes had erected an illegal barricade, the family's lawyers said.

Someone in the group opened fire on the vehicle, according to police, striking Turner.

The city knew of the dangerous situation, said Turner family attorney Sam Starks, pointing to a July 8 article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in which Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said police had planned to clear the area but put the effort on hold after Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd requested time to negotiate with protesters.

Sheperd told the paper she saw value in listening to aggrieved citizens. Had police tried to disperse the large group, some of them armed, the situation might have gotten out of hand, she said.

Besides Bottoms and Sheperd, the suit also names Police Chief Rodney Bryant, who had been named interim chief a few weeks prior after the previous chief, Erika Shields, stepped down following Brooks' shooting.

After the arrest of two officers in Brooks' shooting, 171 officers called in sick over four days "because of their disappointment or discontent with the charges brought against their fellow officers," the lawsuit says. Commanders also instructed policemen to avoid patrolling in the area unless they witnessed a crime, it says.

"Effective immediately, we will operate as police officers and will respond when violence occurs in an officer's presence and will respond to victims of violence," reads a June 17, 2020, memo from an Atlanta police major to other supervisors that is cited in the lawsuit and which the Turner family's lawyers provided to CNN.

"We will not be overly proactive in any shape, form, or fashion. We are concerned about keeping our officers safe and healthy," the memo says.

Starks called it a "failure of city government at the highest levels."

"What's unique here is the whole world knew that the Wendy's was dangerous," co-counsel Mawuli Davis said, noting there had been well-publicized shootings and other violence in the area.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp declared a state of emergency the Monday after Secoriea's shooting, saying "this lawlessness must be stopped and order restored in our capital city."

Davis said the family's legal team received no cooperation from the city and had filed open records requests for information, which he described as a "very, very difficult task."

Shean Williams, another member of the legal team, questioned why the city has refused to take responsibility, and said the lawsuit was filed because almost a year had passed without any action from the city.

"The first tragedy is that we lost an 8-year-old girl," he said. "The second tragedy is it was preventable, and what we've learned in our discovery from the beginning of this case is there was opportunity after opportunity and notice after notice ... to do something about this and they failed to do that."

Motioning to the parents behind him, Williams said, "It didn't take a lot of time for them to lose their daughter's life. Why should it take the city a lot of time to make this right? That's just not the appropriate response, in my view."

The family has not put a figure on the damages it is seeking and will let a jury decide the amount, Davis said.

Suspect denies involvement

Bottoms repeatedly pleaded for protesters to remain peaceful following Brooks' killing. She also issued demands via the media that Secoriea's killer come forward.

"I am asking you to please honor this baby's life. Please, if you know who did this, please turn them in," she said at one news conference. "Enough is enough."

Bottoms declined to comment on the lawsuit Monday, saying through a spokesman that Secoriea's death was a product of "senseless gun violence" that no family should have to endure.

Sheperd and Wendy's did not immediately reply to CNN's request for comment. The Atlanta Police Department declined to comment on pending litigation.

Crime Stoppers offered a $20,000 reward for information about the shooting, and the family raised tens of thousands more, Davis said last year.

About a week and a half after Secoriea's killing, a teenager, Julian Conley, turned himself in. His attorney at the time said Conley was at the scene and carrying a weapon but was not involved in the shooting.

"He was out there peacefully protesting," attorney Jackie Patterson said. "He doesn't know the people who did the shooting. He just witnessed it."

Police have indicated other suspects remain at large. Conley said through his attorney that he saw "between three and four people" open fire on the car carrying Secoriea.

Conley is being held without bail on murder, aggravated assault and other charges, according to Fulton County Jail records.

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