Judge allows drug store shooting lawsuit to move forward

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — A judge is allowing a lawsuit brought against Walgreens and other parties by the twin sister of a 20- year-old man shot and killed in 2018 by a security guard at one of the chain’s stores in Hollywood to proceed.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Stuart M. Rice overruled all challenges brought against Psykssyanna Hart’s lawsuit by Walgreens, security guard Donald Ciota and American Protection Group Inc., one of two companies that provide security guards to Walgreens.

Rice heard arguments June 8 before issuing a final decision that mirrored a tentative ruling he issued the day before.

Psykssyanna Hart and the estate of her late brother, Jonathan Hart, brought the complaint in April 2019, alleging negligence, assault and battery and a violation of civil rights. The siblings’ mother, Psychesia Hart, filed a similar suit against Walgreens just days before her daughter, but later dropped it.

This lawsuit concerns the despicable conduct of Walgreens, a multibillion-dollar corporation, whose executive board placed Walgreens interests in maximizing the corporation’s profits above the safety of innocent consumers shopping at their stores,” according to the suit, which also alleges Walgreens was negligent in the screening, hiring and training of security guards hired through APG and S.E.B. Services.

The suit alleges that Hart was shot and killed by Ciota about 8 p.m. Dec. 2, 2018, as Hart tried to leave the store after being falsely accused of shoplifting. Hart was targeted because he was Black and gay, the suit states.

Walgreens used armed security guards at a small number of its stores depending on the racial background of its customers, the new suit alleges. Many patrons at the Hollywood store are Black, gay and homeless, according to the suit.

The night of the shooting, Hart and the friends with him complained to a Walgreens cashier and other employees that Ciota was harassing them even though none of them had shoplifted or done anything else wrong, the suit states. The other employees did nothing, the suit states.

Ciota held his gun with both hands and shot Hart in the back of the neck as the decedent was leaving the store, the suit states.

Ciota and the other Walgreens employees waited several minutes before calling for medical aid for Hart and the man died hours later at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, according to the suit.

Walgreens released a statement after the first suit by Hart’s mother was filed, saying, “As we have stated from the beginning, we immediately terminated the security company that employed the guard involved in this tragic incident. We are fully committed to providing a safe environment for our employees and customers in the communities we serve. Any suggestion of racial profiling or discrimination is simply false and contrary to our deep commitment to inclusive diversity.”