DeKalb County Courthouse (Photo: John Disney/ALM) DeKalb County Courthouse (Photo: John Disney/ALM)

A DeKalb County apartment complex has paid $3 million to settle claims stemming from a 2016 shooting that left a teenage boy dead and a man seriously wounded.  

Creekside Forest Apartments, which was once termed “deplorable” by DeKalb County Commissioner Nancy Jester, has since been acquired by new owners and has undergone renovations, but it was notorious in 2016 for crime, garbage and empty units that often sheltered squatters and drug dens.

On Jan. 6, 2016, Jaylon Henderson, 15, and his brother Zerek were visiting a friend who lived at the apartments, 27-year-old Terrell Sellers.

That same night, according to court filings, Bruce Howard told some friends he wanted to “go rob somebody,” selecting the apartments just off I-20 in Decatur as a likely spot.

“So he drives past the broken-down, empty guard shack and rides around a bit until he sees a small group of young guys walking through the apartments,” said attorney James “Jeb” Butler.

Howard drove off the apartment property “and essentially set up an ambush for them,” said Butler. “He pulls out a gun as they walk past to try to rob them, but things go bad and he starts shooting.”

Jaylon was fatally wounded by a bullet that pierced the femoral artery in his leg. Sellers was shot in the arm and stomach.

“The stomach was the big one,” said Butler. “There were a lot of problems with that; his bowels were never the same.”

Howard was eventually captured and is serving a life sentence at Macon State Prison for murder, attempted armed robbery and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

In December 2016, Butler and partner Darren Tobin of Butler Tobin, and Matt Stoddard of The Stoddard Firm filed lawsuits on behalf of Jaylon’s parents, Kiarra Maddox and Zeric Henderson Sr., and Sellers in DeKalb County State Court.

Also among the plaintiffs’ team were Butler Tobin’s Alyssa Baskam and Mabra Firm principal Ronnie Mabra. 

The complaints named the complex and its owner, Chester Meisels, along with the company that was supposed to provide security, SMJ Construction Services and its owner, Joe Gonzalez, as defendants.

According to court filings, Gonzalez said during a deposition that conditions were so bad that someone living at Creekside was a “sitting duck” for criminals.

Among the plaintiffs’ allegations were that security guards at the complex were “taking half” of the profits drug dealers made there in exchange for turning a blind eye.

Creekside’s defense counsel, Drew, Eckl & Farnham partner Barbara Marschalk and Hawkins, Parnell, Thackston & Young partner Bryan Grantham moved for summary judgment and Judge Wayne Purdom was considering the plaintiffs’ response when the settlement was hammered out Tuesday, Butler said.

The settlement concludes both cases and includes a $2 million policy limit provided by Arch Specialty Insurance Co. and a $1 million policy provided by James River Insurance, he said.

“This would have been a powerful case to try,” said Butler in a statement announcing the settlement. “The truth is that the owners of these apartments just did not give a damn about the people who lived there, and I think we could have proved that.”

“After we obtained sworn affidavits from five different former employees of the defendants, they didn’t have much of a defense left,” Stoddard said in the release. “I’ve handled a lot of cases like this, and legwork matters.”

Grantham declined to comment, and Marschalk did not immediately respond to a query on Wednesday afternoon.