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Former Walgreens guard has next court date Feb. 13

LOS ANGELES — The suspect in the fatal shooting of an African-American man inside a Walgreens in Hollywood will return to court Feb. 13, when a date is expected to be set for a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for him to stand trial for the Dec. 2 killing of Jonathan Hart, 21.

Donald Vincent Ciota II, 28, of Covina was arraigned on Jan. 3 at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center. He pleaded not guilty to one charge of murder with a firearm the shooting of Hart.

Ciota remains jailed on $3 million bail, despite a request by his attorney, Mark Geragos, to have bail reduced to “something in the neighborhood of $100,000.” The defense lawyer told the judge that he was a “little perplexed” about the prosecution’s reasons for filing the murder charge.

Geragos, could not be reached for further comment on the case.

Ciota faces 50 years to life in prison if convicted.

On Dec. 2, Ciota confronted Hart inside the pharmacy on Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street when a physical altercation ensued, according to a Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office news release.

Ciota then pulled out his firearm and fatally shot Hart as he ran away, the statement added.

After the shooting, video circulated on social media of Hart laying face down on the floor in the Walgreens as Ciota stood over him.

In the video, Ciota appeared to be holding a cell phone in his hand as Hart lay motionless on the floor.

Despite the video’s presence on social media, the Hart family says they have not seen the video of Hart’s last minutes alive.

“The family wants to see the visual images of the last days of Hart’s death but Walgreens is refusing,” Carl Douglas, the family attorney, said at a December press conference.

Ciota suspected Hart of shoplifting at the Walgreens which led to the fight. No evidence of Hart committing or planning to commit the misdemeanor has been presented.

On Dec. 23, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles led a demonstration inside the Walgreens where Hart was shot. The rally lasted for hours as protesters and family members spoke in support of Hart and other victims of police officers’ fire.

Douglas said at a Dec. 31 press conference that “Jonathan Hart was profiled because he was homeless, harassed because he was gay and was shot because he was black.”

Douglas, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and several activists have called for a boycott of Walgreens in the aftermath of the shooting.

Douglas said he is preparing to file a $525 million lawsuit against the company on behalf of Hart’s family. 

“Walgreens made a conscious decision to place armed security guards at only a few of its stores … stores that are in the black, brown and homeless communities,” Douglas said. “So we are continuing our boycott because Walgreens has not seen fit to accept responsibility for the role they played in Jonathan Hart’s death.”

In a statement, Walgreens said the company had “extended our deepest and most sincere condolences” to Hart’s family, and noted that as a result of the shooting, “we immediately terminated the security company” that hired the guard.

“We are committed to providing a safe environment for our employees, patients and customers in the communities we serve,” the Walgreens’ statement said. “We contract for armed and unarmed security, as well as video surveillance, in our stores based on the public safety needs of each location. We operate in thousands of communities and neighborhoods across the nation and the suggestion that we would inappropriately serve any community is simply false. We firmly believe everyone should be welcomed and treated equally in all of our stores.” 

The company said in the statement that it has “cooperated with authorities and will continue to support their prosecution of this case.”

By Michael Livingston

City News Service contributed to this story.

Contributing Writer