The mother of a 15-year-old killed in a shooting last year at a Savannah public housing complex filed a lawsuit alleging several security failures at the complex led to her daughter’s death.

Detraya Gilliard, mother of Desaray Gilliard, accused the Housing Authority of Savannah of having “ample prior notice and knowledge that Yamacraw Village was both unsafe and unkempt and did little to nothing to ensure the safety of its residents,” according to court documents filed in Chatham County State Court on Wednesday.

Gilliard’s shooting death remains unsolved. Savannah Police Department officers found the Groves High School freshman dead on May 6, 2022, close to 10 p.m. Last month, the department increased its reward for information leading to arrest to $15,000, as eight months have gone by with no new information released.

The lawsuit blames the Housing Authority for neither employing security officers nor having working surveillance cameras on the premises of Yamacraw Village, a 315-unit public housing complex built in 1940, when Gilliard was killed. The suit says the agency failed to install fencing and keep criminal trespass lists “despite actual knowledge of extensive violent crime occurring in the common areas of the apartment complex,” according to court documents.

Savannah Police Department notice for unsolved killing of Desaray Gilliard at the Yamacraw Village complex. Credit: Savannah Police Department

Dana Braun, a lawyer for the Housing Authority of Savannah, said the agency has not yet been served with the lawsuit. A reporter left a message for Detraya Gilliard’s attorney, James Kurhajian of Dozier Law Firm, LLC, at his office.

The 83-year-old housing complex is currently the subject of a battle over Black history, systemic poverty, and development in Savannah. The Housing Authority of Savannah has been seeking to demolish the complex in hopes of redeveloping it. The agency has noted high costs to fix the aging complex in disrepair and its goal of breaking up dense pockets of poverty in the city, according to the Savannah Morning News. Local residents, however, have challenged the authority and accused it of years-long disinvestment and abandonment, seeking preservation and reinvestment for the site instead, according to news reports.

The lawsuit by Gilliard’s mother mirrors another suit filed in June 2020, after a Savannah anti-violence advocate was gunned down at a different public housing complex less than 2 miles away from Yamacraw Village.

The suit filed on behalf of Shawntray Grant, 33, accused the Housing Authority of Savannah and the developer and management company of The View (formerly Robert Hitch Village) apartments, where Grant had moved in a week before, of allowing negligent security at the complex despite being aware of violent crime concerns. 

At around 2 a.m. in June 2018, Grant returned to The View after winning money on a gambling boat earlier in the night. 

A security guard was nearby guarding the developer’s building supplies, the lawsuit alleged. He heard gunshots but refrained from calling the police, it said. Grant was found dead shortly thereafter.

The suit cited large profits made by private companies who put up public housing for low-income Americans and accused them of putting profits before residents’ safety. 

The Housing Authority of Savannah denied the allegations as well as the developer and management companies. The suit is ongoing.

Jake Shore covers public safety and the courts system in Savannah and Coastal Georgia. He is also a Report for America corps member. Prior to joining The Current, Jake worked as a senior writer for the...