The security guard who allegedly shot and killed a man he accused of shoplifting at a Hollywood Walgreens pleaded not guilty to murder Thursday.
The plea from 28-year-old Donald Vincent Ciota II comes weeks after the family of the victim, Jonathan Hart, announced plans to file a $525 million lawsuit against Walgreens — alleging the corporation places armed guards in only a select number of its stores.
Ciota is accused of gunning down Hart after the two got into a fight over shoplifting allegations at the Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street location on the night of Dec. 2, according to police. Authorities have said Hart was was unarmed and loved ones have said he intended to pay for the items he was accused of stealing.
“There was no robbery attempt. That’s offensive,” the family’s attorney, Carl Douglas, told reporters just outside the courthouse.
With Hart described as homeless, Douglas has said he was targeted for that reason as well as his race as a black man and sexual orientation as a gay man. The attorney, Carl Douglas, has encouraged a boycott against Walgreens.
“We are heartened that justice will be on the way, but now we must turn to responsibility of Walgreens, because the death of Jonathan Hart has left blood on the hands of executives of Walgreens as well.”
The corporation issued a statement to KTLA saying it fired the security company that placed Ciota in its Hollywood store.
“We have cooperated with authorities and will continue to support their prosecution of this case,” reads the statement. “We are fully committed to providing a safe environment for our employees, patients and customers in the communities we serve.”
A friend of Hart, Aaliyah Haughto, said there was some shoving between him and Ciota before gunfire broke out. She has also said Hart was shot in the back.
“After that situation, the security guard then made another advance and that’s when Sky turned to make it for the exit and the security guard pulled out his weapon and fired,” Haughto said.
Hart was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center but later died from his wounds. His mother, also a security guard, has blasted Ciota’s handling of the situation.
“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,” said Psychesia Hart. “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?”
Douglas said he has demanded to see the surveillance footage that captured the shooting but Walgreens has refused to hand over the video.
Ciota faces a maximum sentence of 50 years to life if convicted and is being held on $3 million bail. His next court appearance is schedule for mid-February.