A Walgreens security guard has been charged with murder in the shooting death of an unarmed black man who was suspected of shoplifting a $2.99 water-flavoring product, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office says in a press release.
Donald Vincent Ciota II fatally shot 21-year-old Jonathan Hart at a Walgreens pharmacy in Hollywood on December 2, the district attorney’s office said in a press release. Ciota, a 28-year-old Covina resident, is charged with one count of murder with an allegation that he
used a firearm as a deadly and dangerous weapon.
Hart, also known as Sky Young, was homeless and suffering from mental illness, his family has said. At a vigil held on December 4, friends and family called for justice for Hart. His friend, Melanie Bryant, told KTLA-TV that Hart was a “beautiful spirit; he was a beautiful human being.” His cousin, Danielle Hart, told the news station, “”I feel like it should never have happened that way. It could’ve been prevented.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Ciota Told Hart to ‘Freeze’ as He Ran Away & Then Shot Him in the Back of the Neck, Attorneys Say
The shooting happened on December 2 at the Walgreens pharmacy at the corner of Sunset and Vine in Hollywood, California, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office said in a press release.
“On Dec. 2, Ciota confronted Jonathan Hart, 21, inside the pharmacy on Sunset and Vine when a physical altercation ensued, prosecutors said. Ciota then pulled out his firearm and is alleged to have fatally shot Hart in the back as he ran away, prosecutors added,” the press release states.
According to attorneys for Hart’s family, he was in the store with another group of black homeless men. One of the men picked up a $2.99 water flavoring product and they were confronted by a security guard. Hart, who went by Sky Young, began arguing with Donald Ciota, the security guard.
“The guard feels the man push him one time,” attorney Carl Douglas said at a press conference. “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.”
Police and Hart’s family say he was not harmed. Douglas said the only item in Hart’s possession when he was shot was a California ID card.
Douglas released a graphic video of the aftermath of the shooting, which you can watch below:
“This isn’t right and the only way we will be able to make our community safe for all the Jonathan Harts of the world is by hitting Walgreens where it hurts!” Douglas tweeted.
Walgreens said in a statement, “We are committed to providing a safe environment for our employees, patients and customers in the communities we serve. We contract for armed and unarmed security, as well as video surveillance, in our stores based on the public safety needs of each location.”
2. Lawyers for Hart’s Family Say He Was Not Shoplifting & Was ‘Profiled Because He Was Homeless, Harassed Because He Was Gay & Was Shot Because He Was Black’
Carl Douglas, whose law firm was hired to represent Jonathan Hart’s family, said Hart was not shoplifting. He said Hart, who was gay, homeless and black, was targeted because of those factors.
Douglas told reporters, “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. He was harassed because he was gay and he was shot because he was black.”
According to Hart’s family, he aspired to be a hairdresser. He used the name Sky Young and was often seen on fashion websites, styling clothes and doing makeup. His mother, Psychesia Hart, is herself a security guard, she told KTLA-TV. She criticized the security guard for not following 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,” she told KTLA. “First off, you’re security. Our job as security officers: observe and report. But don’t pull no gun on nobody and shoot them in the back. What kind of coward are you?”
3. Ciota, Who Was Working for a Security Company, Is a Bakersfield Native
Donald Ciota is a 28-year-old resident of Covina, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office said in a press release. Walgreens has said he was working for a security company that had been contracted by the company to provide guards at the Hollywood store. Walgreens ended its contract with the company after the shooting.
The company that Ciota was working for has not been named. It is not clear how long he was working for the company nor whether he has is still an employee of the security firm.
According to public records and social media profiles, Ciota is a native of Bakersfield, California. He attended Kern High School and is the son of Donald Ciota Sr. and Angela Sidhu-Ciota. He has two younger siblings, a brother and a sister.
Ciota’s father, Don Ciota, is the general manager and COO of Las Posas Country Club in Camarillo, California, and has also been the general manager of Palm Valley Country Club in Palm Desert, California. Ciota’s family could not be reached for comment by Heavy about the arrest.
4. He Faces 50 Years to Life in State Prison if Convicted
Ciota was set to be arraigned Monday. He has been held on $3 million bail at the Los Angeles County jail since his arrest on December 28. A warrant charging him with murder was obtained by the district attorney’s office on December 27.
If convicted of the murder charge, Ciota faces a maximum sentence of 50 years to life in state prison, the district attorney’s office said.
It is not clear if Ciota has hired an attorney. He could not be reached for comment. The case remains under investigation by the Los Angeles Police Department, the district attorney’s office said.
5. Hart’s Family Plans to File a $525 Million Civil Rights Lawsuit Against Walgreens
Jonathan Hart’s family announced earlier in December that they plan to file a $525 million wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit against Walgreens. Carl Douglas, the LA-based attorney representing the family, said at a press conference, “Walgreens, the blood of Jonathan Hart is on your hands.”
Douglas questioned why armed security guards were needed at four Los Angeles Walgreens stores in minority neighborhoods.
“Each of these stores are in the black, brown and homeless and LGBT communities, and we want to know why,” Douglas said at the press conference.
Douglas added, “A corporation is never allowed to needlessly endanger a member of the public. And when it does … the corporation is responsible for all the injuries it caused.”
Walgreens said in a statement the chain contracts “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.”
The company added, “we firmly believe everyone should be welcomed and treated equally in all of our stores.”