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Walgreens security guard faces charges in shooting death

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office announced Dec. 31 that a former security guard at a Hollywood Walgreens will be charged with murder for the fatal shooting of an African-American man.

Donald Vincent Ciota II, 28, faces one charge of murder for the Dec. 2 shooting of 21-year-old Jonathan Hart inside the Walgreens at Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street, according to a L.A. County District Attorney’s Office news release.

If convicted, Ciota faces a maximum of 50 years to life in prison.

Ciota and Hart had a physical altercation inside the Walgreens after Ciota suspected Hart of shoplifting, the news release said.

Ciota fatally shot Hart once in the back of the neck as he was leaving the pharmacy, the news release said. Walgreens fired Ciota immediately after the shooting, according to a company statement.

Mark Geragos, Ciota’s attorney, said “there is no way in the world this should be a murder case.”

Hours after the district attorney’s office announced the charges against Ciota, Carl Douglas, an attorney for the Hart family, held a press conference where he said the Hart family has mixed emotions over the announcement of the murder charge.

“We are heartened and indeed we are encouraged that District Attorney Jackie Lacey has shown the leadership to file murder charges” against Ciota, Douglas said, with Hart’s parents and sister seated near him.

However, the murder charge does not console the Hart family during their first holiday season with him.

“We’re trying to grieve right now,” Douglas said. “The funeral was just a couple of days ago. We’re still absorbing the terrible shock of that.”

Douglas then renewed his demand of a boycott Walgreens for the fatal shooting, announcing his intention to file a $500 million lawsuit against the company.

Hart, also known as Sky Young, was shot and profiled for being a black, gay and homeless man, Douglas said. When asked to clarify, Douglas said that his pending lawsuit would reveal the discriminatory nature of Ciota’s actions.

“You know it was a dastardly shooting because the district attorney filed second degree murder charges,” Douglas said.

The pharmacy has armed security guards at only a handful of the thousands of locations in Los Angeles County, Douglas said.

Douglas said that the armed security guards are only in African-American and Latino communities.

“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,” Douglas said.

Douglas claimed that the footage of the shooting is being withheld from the Hart family by Walgreens.

Multiple attempts to contact Walgreens about Douglas’ claims about the footage and armed security guards were not returned.

After the shooting, Walgreens released a statement saying that the company was “deeply concerned about this incident and the loss of life” and is “gathering facts and fully cooperating with law enforcement.”

Walgreens “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,” according to the company.

“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.”

After the announcement that charges had been filed against Ciota, Walgreens reiterated its commitment to its employees, patients and customers in an email to City News Service, adding “We have cooperated with authorities and will continue to support their prosecution of this case.”

City News Service contributed to this story.