LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A man who worked as a security guard is set to be arraigned today on a murder charge stemming from the shooting death of a man he suspected of shoplifting at a Hollywood pharmacy.
Donald Vincent Ciota, 28, of Covina, is charged in the Dec. 2 killing of Jonathan Hart, 21.
Ciota appeared Monday in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom with defense attorney Mark Geragos, but did not enter a plea.
Investigators allege that Ciota confronted Hart inside the Walgreens pharmacy on Sunset and Vine and that the two men became involved in a physical altercation. Ciota then pulled out his firearm and allegedly shot Hart in the back of his neck as he ran away, according to prosecutors and a coroner's report.
A witness told CBS2 that Hart was carrying something as he walked near the door to use the ATM. The witness said he knew Hart, whom he believed to be homeless and suffering from mental illness.
If convicted as charged, Ciota faces a possible maximum sentence of 50 years to life in prison, according to prosecutors.
An attorney for Hart's family alleged that he was targeted because he was black and gay and questioned why Walgreens only has armed security guards at four stores in the Los Angeles area.
“Each of these stores are in the black, brown and homeless and LGBT communities, and we want to know why,” attorney Carl Douglas said at a Dec. 11 news conference.
Walgreens issued a statement in response, saying 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,” 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.”
The company said in the statement that it has “cooperated with authorities and will continue to support their prosecution of this case.”
Douglas insisted that Hart, also known as Sky Young, was not shoplifting. He said Hart and another black man were in the store, and at one point while inside the store, one of them picked up a $2.99 water flavoring product. The guard confronted the men and got into an argument with Hart, the attorney said.
“The guard feels the man pushed him one time,” Douglas said. “The guard pushes the man back one time. The guard watches as the man turns to run toward the back door. The guard raises his gun and points at the man. The guard says, `Freeze,' as the man travels toward the door. The guard fires one shot, striking the man in the back of the neck. The guard watches as the man crumbles to the ground.”
Hart died at a hospital. Douglas said the only thing in Hart's hands when he died was a California ID card.
“Jonathan was not shoplifting,” he said. “Let me repeat that. Jonathan was not shoplifting when he was shot. That's the propaganda Walgreens wants you to report.”
“I dare say, Jonathan Hart was profiled because he was homeless,” Douglas said. “He was harassed because he was gay, and he was shot because he was black.”
Douglas has said he planned to file a lawsuit against Walgreens seeking $525 million in damages.