A 2014 Columbus homicide in which the defendant was acquitted on a self-defense claim has led to a $4.5 million civil verdict against the property owner.
That’s the total in compensatory and punitive damages awarded to the parents and estate of Markeese Hodge, whom Jerome Chatmon fatally shot Aug. 6, 2014, during a party at Cross Keys Apartments, 3816 Baker Plaza Drive.
The plaintiffs sued McCorlew Realty Inc., claiming the company failed to add adequate security measures at the apartment complex despite incidents that preceded Hodge’s fatal shooting, including a July 26, 2014, case in which three people were shot there.
Those filing suit were Hodge’s parents Katrina Archie and James Hodge, and attorney Andrew Rothschild as administrator of Markeese Hodge’s estate. The jury awarded them $1.5 million on a wrongful death claim, $500,000 on an estate claim for Hodge’s pain and suffering, and $2.5 million in punitive damages.
In assessing liability, it held McCorlew Realty 90 percent responsible and Chatmon and Hodge each 5 percent responsible for Hodge’s death.
According to the claim and to evidence presented at Chatmon’s trial, Chatmon was acting as a doorman during a party at an apartment occupied by Betty Martin-Woods and son Byron Martin. Chatmon’s defense attorney Stacey Jackson claimed Martin asked Chatmon to work security because Chatmon was ex-military and carried a gun.
When Hodge, a friend of Martin’s accompanied by Bobby Williams, arrived at the gathering between 3 and 4:45 a.m., Chatmon told them he had to pat them down for weapons. Hodge refused and became belligerent, Chatmon said.
According to Chatmon, Hodge pulled out a handgun as Williams hit him in the head with the butt of a gun, so he fired in self-defense.
Williams was wounded but survived. Hodge, 27, died later at the hospital.
Chatmon was charged with murder, using a firearm to commit a crime, and two counts of aggravated assault. A jury acquitted him in December 2015.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs claimed McCorlew Realty neglected to take substantive action to secure the apartments after the July 2014 shooting in which three were wounded, and this inaction led to Hodge’s death.
Referring to McCorlew Realty Inc. as “MRI,” the claim said in part: “MRI had actual and constructive knowledge of criminal activity existing on and around the premises prior to the shooting of Markeese Hodge, including prior violent crimes on the premises and in the immediate area. Said prior criminal activity was negligently permitted to exit and remain at said premises.”
All McCorlew did after the July 2014 shootings was ask police to regularly check on the property, the plaintiffs said. Evidence showed that after Hodge’s death, the company hired a security guard and installed surveillance cameras, among other measures.
In its filings, the defense countered that McCorlew Realty could not have foreseen that two individuals would get into a personal dispute leading to a shooting, as it involved no trend in criminal activity:
“Jerome Chatmon did not come to Cross Keys Apartments with the intent of either committing a crime or engaging in a conflict with Markeese Hodge. They got into a fight after a spontaneous argument, which led to one shooting the other.”
The defense also brought in the two combatants’ character, noting Hodge had a criminal record while Chatmon served honorably overseas:
“The evidence will show that Mr. Chatmon was in the military, that he was trained in weapons and improvised explosive devices, as well as dealing with prisoners and detainees. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012, where he patted down prisoners to check for weapons.”
Hodge’s criminal record was a factor for the jury to consider by comparison, the defense wrote: “In our case, Jerome Chatmon has testified that he shot Markeese Hodge because Mr. Hodge was trying to commit a criminal act of assault with a deadly weapon on him, so Mr. Chatmon shot first. Evidence that Mr. Hodge was a criminal will help the jury in understanding why Mr. Chatmon held the belief he was about to be shot.”
Before Hodge’s death, increased security at Cross Keys was not necessary, the defense said: “Defendant does not contend that it could not have installed surveillance cameras or hired a security guard; rather, defendant denies that such measures were necessary, reasonable or prudent based upon the lack of substantially similar criminal acts prior to the shooting of Markeese Hodge ...”
Representing the plaintiffs was R. Scott Campbell of the Atlanta firm Shiver Hamilton. G. Lee Welborn of Downey & Cleveland in Marietta represented McCorlew Realty.