Walgreens Security Guard Targeted Victim for Being Black and Gay, Lawsuit Claims

The family of a man who was shot and killed by a Walgreens security guard after being suspected of shoplifting believes he was targeted for being Black and gay. The family of Jonathan Hart have filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

The lawsuit, which was filed with the Los Angeles County Superior Court on April 26 by Hart’s twin sister Psykyssyanna, claims the 21-year-old was “maliciously, wrongfully, intentionally, negligently and/or carelessly” shot and killed in December 2018 by Donald Vincent Ciota II, NBC News reported.

Ciota, 28, confronted Hart inside a Hollywood Walgreens after he suspected the 21-year-old was stealing. Prosecutors said that the two engaged in a physical altercation, which allegedly led Ciota to pull out a gun and shoot Hart as he ran away. The lawsuit contends that Hart was not shoplifting and instead was targeted by Ciota because of his race and sexual orientation. Hart and his friend reportedly complained to a Walgreens employee about Ciota’s “aggressive and hostile manner,” the lawsuit claims.

That did not stop Ciota from following Hart and his friend around the store, The Los Angeles Times reported. Ciota approached Hart again, prompting him to move quickly toward the exit. The suit states that Ciota crouched and pointed his gun at Hart’s back. He yelled “freeze” before shooting Hart in the back of the neck. Hart, who was described as a young, gay, homeless Black man, was transported to a hospital, where he died.

“Jonathan committed no crime or other act against defendant Ciota, or any other person, to justify the use of deadly force against him,” the lawsuit states, according to NBC News. “He was unarmed and did nothing to cause defendant Ciota to believe he was confronting an imminent threat to his life or anyone else’s life.”

The suit also names Walgreens and two security firms — American Protection Group and S.E.B. Services — as defendants. Carl Douglas, the Hart family’s attorney, accused the drug store company of placing armed security guards in stores located in African American and Latinx neighborhoods, KTLA reported. “Walgreens is responsible for the death of Jonathan Hart because of the despicable choices they made to place profits over safety,” Douglas said. Douglas could not be reached for comment on the lawsuit.

On December 31, 2018, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office announced that Ciota faced one count of murder for using a firearm as a deadly and dangerous weapon. Ciota, who pleaded not guilty during a court appearance in January, is being held at Men’s Central Jail in Los Angeles on $3 million bail, jail records show.

Ciota is scheduled to return to court on May 22, KTLA reported. If convicted, he faces a possible maximum sentence of 50 years to life in prison. The Los Angeles County DA’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Walgreens previously said that it was no longer working with the security firm that hired Ciota.

“We are committed to providing a safe environment for our employees, patients, and customers in the communities we serve,” Walgreens spokesman Phil Caruso told The Los Angeles Times. “We contract for armed and unarmed security, as well as video surveillance, in our stores based on the public safety needs of each location.”

Hart’s sister told reporters that she wished she was not in the position of litigating her brother's death. “I really don’t wish this on anybody because it hurts so much… It’s just not fair,” Psykyssyanna said, according to KTLA.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.