A former Walgreens security guard is charged with murder after prosecutors say he shot and killed a homeless man he accused of shoplifting from the store last month.
Donald Vincent Ciota II, 28, is facing one count of murder for the Dec. 2 confrontation that left 21-year-old Jonathan Hart dead, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office announced Monday.
In a press release, prosecutors said Ciota approached Hart inside the Hollywood, Calif., store after suspecting him of stealing a water flavoring product priced at $2.99. The two men got into a physical altercation, after which Ciota drew his gun and fatally shot Hart in the back as he fled.
Hart, who is believed to have been homeless, was struck in the neck, his family’s attorney, Carl Douglas said. He was transported to a nearby hospital where he later died.
“Jonathan Hart was profiled because he was homeless,” Douglas said at a news conference Monday. “He was harassed because he was gay. And he was shot because he was Black.”
Douglas said the Hart family intends to file a $525 million wrongful death suit against Walgreens.
“I gave this family a pledge that Jonathan Hart will not have died in vain,” the family’s attorney told reporters days after the shooting. “Walgreens, the blood of Jonathan Hart is on your hands.”
Video from inside the store that night shows Ciota standing over Hart’s wounded body and several broken bottles of red wine as he’s on the phone. Hart’s friend Aaliyah Haughto told KTLA that Hart was on his way to the front register to pay for the items he was carrying when the chaos unfolded.
“A lot of awful words were exchanged, and we were then followed to the end of the store to complete our transaction,” she recalled. “An altercation broke out again, a scuffle happened [and] shoves were met. Then, “the security guard pulled out his weapon and fired.”
In a statement, Walgreens expressed “deep concern about this incident and the loss of life,” and said it’s cooperating with law enforcement in their investigation. The company added that it has severed ties with the security company Ciota was employed with.
“We have extended our deepest and most sincere condolences to Mr. Hart’s family,” the company said.
The statement was of little consolation to Hart’s mother, Psychesia Hart, who is a security officer herself. The grieving mother issued a stern rebuke of Ciota over his handling of the incident and accused him of failing to follow protocol.
“This mistake of a human being, because he had a badge and a gun, felt like he had every right to pull a weapon on my child,” Psychesia Hart told KTLA. “First off, you are security. Our job as security officers: observe and report. But don’t pull no go on nobody and shoot them in the back. What kind of coward are you?”
Hart’s close friends and relatives knew him as “Sky Young” and added that the young man was homeless and suffered from mental health issues. Friends insist he was unarmed at the time of the shooting.
High-profile attorney Mark Geragos, who’s representing Ciota, criticized the charge, however, and insisted his client was only “defending the customers, the store and himself.”
“This isn’t a murder investigation,” Geragos told NBC News.
The attorney cited a police report stating Hart entered the Walgreens with two other men and were “in the process of robbing the store” when he was confronted by Ciota. Geragos said the security guard only fired after one of the “robbers” struck him in the face.
Ciota is currently being held on $3 million bail. If convicted, he faces 50 years to life in prison.
The incident remains under investigation.
Watch more in the video below.