A Detroit gas station clerk has been charged with involuntary manslaughter after locking customers in a store with a man who made good on his threat to shoot people if the doors were not unlocked.
Prosecutors say while 22-year-old Al-Hassan Aiyash was trying to stop a shoplifter from stealing from the convenience store he worked at, he trapped other customers inside the business and endangered their lives. During the incident, one customer was fatally shot, and now the county seeks to hold him responsible for the individual’s death.
Legal analysts say the prosecution will never be able to make that man criminally liable for the murder because he did not (nor intended to) pull the trigger. Still, if convicted of this charge, Aiyah could face up to 15 years in prison, the Detroit News reports.
Court records show that on Saturday, May 6, around 3 a.m., Aiyash was working at the Mobil gas station when Samuel McCray attempted to make a less than $4 purchase.
McCray attempted to pay for an iced tea and donuts on his credit card, but the bank declined payment. McCray still wanted his items, even though he could not pay for them, prosecutors say.
Aiyash was adamant that McCray could not leave without proper payment, causing the customer to become “increasingly hostile.”
“McCray became very agitated and continued to argue with Aiyash. The evidence will show that eventually, unknown to the three men, Aiyash pushed a security button to unlock the door, but failed to tell the men seconds before McCray began shooting at the three men,” according to a press release written by Assistant Prosecutor Maria Miller.
According to Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Anna Posigian, Aiyash locked the doors to prevent McCray from leaving, also trapping inside the space three innocent customers.
Attorney Jamil Khuja is representing Aiyash and says his client called the police and only locked the door to stop McCray from leaving.
For nearly eight minutes the customers were stuck inside the store, begging to be released. The trio even offered to pay McCray’s bill, but Aiyash would not yield.
“The allegations of the defendant locking the door of the store and not heeding the pleas of the men to be released led to tragic consequences in this case,” Prosecutor Kym Worthy said.
One of the men in the store that early morning was 37-year-old David Langston. He said McCray threatened to shoot everyone inside the gas station unless the door was unlocked.
The witness said he even begged McCray, “‘Please, man, don’t shoot us. We don’t got nothing to do with this.’ … And he started shooting.”
When the clerk did unlock the door, he failed to inform anyone of his decision, Posigian explained before noting 15 seconds later McCray pulled out a gun and started wildly blasting in the store.
The man shot three people: 60-year-old Anthony Bowden, Langston, and his friend 37-year-old Gregory Kelly. Kelly was killed.
Officers arrived after the shooting, and McCray was identified and later arrested.
While McCray was charged with first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder, felon in possession of a firearm, and four counts of felony firearm, the prosecutors said during an arraignment on Friday, May 19, the clerk’s actions escalated the situation and directly led to Kelly’s killing.
McCray was denied bond.
Still, attention has been unjustly placed on Aiyash, his lawyers assert.
Arab American News states Aiyash was arrested Thursday, May 18, by the Detroit police before being arraigned the next day.
Khuja says it is wrong to hold his client responsible for a crime he did not commit. As a result, he asked 36th District Court Magistrate Malaika Ramsey-Heath for a personal recognizance bond, contending Aiyash is not a danger to the community and is no flight risk.
“When this happened, he’s at work, he’s by no means involving himself in any criminal activity. He’s at work performing his job. It’s really not fair, while presumed innocent, to hold him in custody while [prosecutors] test out a legal theory that’s never been done before. … He was doing his job,” Khuja said.
Adding, “Did he panic and act inappropriately in a way? Maybe, but that’s the best they can argue here.”
The magistrate, who reviewed police reports which included a transcription of a video from the incident, said at the arraignment this was not just about the young man “locking the door.”
Ramsey-Heath argues, “It was a participation in the escalation of this situation and then locking the door while people were begging to be let out. To me, the concerning thing is … somebody getting away with $5 worth of goods … has now turned into a homicide.”
She noted that Aiyash also told the police there might be a possible shooting about to occur at the store.
“If somebody is saying that and locking numerous people in an environment and not letting them out, and then it escalates in the way that it did, I can’t hear that and say there’s no role in what happened,” Ramsey-Heath said.
Also impacted is the owner of the Mobil gas station. According to the individual’s lawyer, Ali Dagher, the person is devastated that this happened on his or her property.
“The owner reached out to the family of the victims and provided support to try to heal the great pain that has been inflicted on the families by a cold-blooded killer who took the life of Mr. Kelly and injured two other patrons,” Dagher said via email.
The attorney said his client paid for Kelly’s funeral expenses and has closed down his business “out of respect for the families and community.”
Detroit’s Buildings, Safety, Engineering, and Environmental Department says that’s not why the store is closed. It is closed because the owner did not have a legal license to operate.
Bowden, who had stopped in the store to use an ATM, is now suing ExxonMobil Corp. and franchise owner, SMM Investment Inc., for negligence, ABC News reports.
Moreover, Detroit City Council President Mary Sheffield has taken an interest in this case. She knew the victim.
In an effort to get to the bottom of the case, a move that could help the prosecution’s case has asked the city’s legal team to see if there exists an ordinance that bans businesses from locking patrons inside.
“This entire incident, which involved a dispute over $3, could have been prevented, and it is imperative that safety measures are put in place to ensure this never happens again in the City of Detroit,” Sheffield said.
Aiyash’s preliminary examination is scheduled for May 30.