Lisa and Nick Messina filed suit in U.S. District Court on Aug. 9 against Deputy Jason Yarbrough, the officer who shot their son May 1, 2012, at Messina’s home in the Eagle Watch subdivision in Woodstock, during a standoff with police after the troubled teen allegedly held his mother at gunpoint and was threatening to kill himself.
Yarbrough was later cleared of any wrongdoing in the shooting by former District Attorney Garry Moss following an investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, but Lisa Messina said Tuesday she and her husband don’t feel justice has been served in the death of their only child.
“He was a good kid,” she said. “He did not deserve that.”
The standoff at the Messina home began when Lisa Messina called 911 and reported that her son had his father’s .357 Magnum revolver and was threatening to kill himself.
Initial reports from authorities also indicated the teen held his mother at gunpoint, but the lawsuit filed by the Messinas disputes that.
“At no time did Andrew threaten to shoot Mrs. Messina with the gun, nor did he in any way restrain her,” the lawsuit claims, adding that she exited the house after the 911 operator suggested she do so.
In a 700-page report on the incident prepared by the GBI released July 2012, authorities said Yarbrough shot Andrew in the abdomen after the teen broke a glass window pane out of the front door of the home on Laurel Crest Drive and pointed his gun toward deputies. According to the report, Yarbrough told investigators that he heard “two loud pops” after the glass broke, and he believed Andrew was shooting.
But David A. Cox of Pekor and Associates, the law firm representing the Messinas in the suit, said Tuesday Yarbrough was mistaken, adding that the teen had his back turned to police when he was shot.
“He was shot through his lower back, and the round exited his lower abdomen on the other side,” he said.
Cox said Yarbrough shouldn’t have fired at Andrew, because he had no hostages inside the home and posed no threat to deputies.
“We don’t believe any of the officers were ever in any kind of jeopardy or danger,” Cox said. “Andrew hadn’t acted aggressively toward any of the officers.”
Police said at the time both alcohol and medications the teen was taking may have been contributing factors to the incident. According to the GBI’s report, Andrew’s toxicology tests revealed his blood to be positive for sertraline, an antidepressant, and he had a blood-alcohol content of .132.
Within the lawsuit, the Messinas are asking the court to let a jury decide exactly how much they should be owed in retribution for their son’s death.
“We didn’t put a dollar figure on it,” Cox said. “There’s no amount you can put on a child’s life.”
Lisa Messina said in addition to damages, she and her husband want changes in protocol to “prevent any parent from ever having to go through” such a situation again.
“He’s gone; Nothing will bring him back,” Lisa said. “But we have good intentions … to make changes. There are things that can be improved to prevent this.”
Although Yarbrough is the only defendant in the lawsuit, Cox said more suits could come, if suing others proves to be legally prudent.
“You’d see a lot bigger suit now if we could do it,” he said. “It could be that Deputy Yarbrough ends up being the only defendant. There could be others.”
Cherokee County Attorney Angie Davis said Tuesday she had not yet had time to review the lawsuit, but since Yarbrough was on duty when the shooting took place, she suspected the county would represent him.
Sheriff Roger Garrison said at the time of the investigation the negotiators “worked feverishly, to the very, very best of their abilities” to talk Andrew into surrendering.