Cullie Mitchell Denney was at a party held at the commissioner’s Whitesburg home almost two years ago when he was shot by 21-year-old friend Zachery Sibley of Carrollton.
Sibley is serving a 10-year sentence in the state prison in Chatham County after pleading guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter and false imprisonment.
The party was held by Dustin Jackson, the commissioner’s son, who is also named in the lawsuit, while the commissioner and his wife were out of town.
For the civil trial, the Denney family is being represented by Villa Rica attorney Mac Pilgrim, who is asking that the plaintiffs be awarded in excess of $35 million.
“One of the reasons we picked that number was to get people’s attention, and it has,” Pilgrim said. “But we also picked it because the value of Cullie’s life was quite a bit. There was no life insurance taken out on him, so his parents are still paying hospital and funeral bills. They’ve received enormous support from a community that rose up around them, but they are still paying.”
The four defendants in the lawsuit are Kevin and Dustin Jackson, as well as Sibley and his father, Michael Sibley, who Pilgrim said loaned Zachary the truck used to allegedly “dump” Denney near Lake Seaton after the shooting.
Michael Sibley and Kevin Jackson were both served a summons from Pilgrim’s firm earlier this month. Dustin Jackson is currently serving with the U.S. military in Afghanistan.
Georgia Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bankhead said that the party attendees “were shooting guns, and there was some alcohol involved. They called some other friends over. Around 3 a.m., Sibley had his weapon and apparently pointed it at one of the others and the gun went off and hit the person in the head. It is my understanding that the commissioner’s son called 911.”
Sibley, Bankhead said, told others at the party that he would take the victim to Tanner Medical Center/Carrollton.
“He put the victim in his truck and drove him off,” Bankhead said.
Instead of driving to the hospital, Sibley allegedly dumped the wounded man near Cross Plains Road and Hutcheson Ferry Road and then drove more than three miles back to Jackson’s house. Sibley was questioned once when police arrived and provided information about where he took the victim.
Deputies and GBI agents found Denney around 7:30 a.m., at which time he was flown to Grady Memorial Hospital, where he died three days later.
Pilgrim said the commissioner is named as a defendant because, even though he was not present at the party, he was still negligent.
“This was his home, and we believe that he was aware of these parties — this was not an isolated incident,” the attorney said. “We intend to prove that he knew these parties usually involved either guns or alcohol, if not both at the same time.”
The commissioner’s son Dustin, who held the party but was not directly involved in the incident, is named as a defendant also because of negligence, Pilgrim said.
“Mr. Sibley had fired his weapon at least two times at random items,” Pilgrim said. “Not at wild game or at targets — just randomly. We do not believe Dustin Jackson made any attempt to remove Mr. Sibley from the gathering place.”
Jackson and his son are being represented by Carrollton attorney Tommy Greer and Marietta attorney Chris Harrison. Both Greer and Harrison declined comment
Zachery Sibley’s father Michael is named as a defendant, Pilgrim said, because he allegedly lent the truck used in the incident to his son.
“His son had a prior history of being a reckless driver,” the plaintiff’s attorney said, “and we intend to prove that the transportation and dumping hastened the boy’s death. It also increased his pain and suffering before leaving earth.”
Pilgrim said the Denney family, named as plaintiffs David and Mary Denney, the victim’s parents, came to him several months ago concerning the lawsuit.
“This was a long, drawn-out decision to pursue this,” Pilgrim said. “They came to me recently, troubled. And then David, the victim’s father, called and asked me to file the suit on his behalf.”
Pilgrim said the family’s final decision to pursue the suit came after considering Denney’s legacy.
“I told him that if he does this, he can tell his son when he’s praying about him at night that he did everything he could,” he said. “That he stood up for him through it all.”