A southern California security guard welcomed in the new year behind bars after being charged with murder Monday in the fatal shooting of a Black homeless man he suspected of shoplifting at a Walgreens in Hollywood.
Donald Vincent Ciota II, of Covina, is accused of shooting 21-year-old Jonathan Hart in the back inside the Sunset and Vine store on Dec. 2. According to a statement from prosecutors, Hart was running away after a confrontation with Ciota when he was gunned down. Ciota now faces up to life in prison if convicted. His bond has reportedly been set at $3 million.
“If this were a police officer, they would be lauding [Ciota],” argues Ciota’s defense attorney Mark Geragos. “He was assaulted. He defended himself.”
Geragos is famously known for representing celebrities like Michael Jackson and Winona Ryder. The client of his latest headline-making case entered no plea Monday, and Ciota’s arraignment was moved to Thursday, NBC Los Angeles reports.
Civil rights and personal injury attorney Carl Douglas issued the following statement on Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s decision to charge Ciota with murder.
“The family received news of District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s decision to charge Donald Ciotta with mixed emotions. One the one hand, this is the first Christmas they spent without their beloved Jonathan. Christmas is a time for family and the hole that his absence created will never be repaired. On the other hand, the family is heartened to learn that the process of someone accepting responsibility for Jonathan’s death will now begin in earnest. Justice is now on the horizon.”
Douglas noted that “Lacey’s decision to charge 2nd-degree murder reflects the horrendous circumstances of his death. This 21-year-old homeless Black gay man was unarmed and was attempting to evade further confrontation when he was shot from behind. The evidence is clear that Jonathan was not posing any threat at all to Mr. Ciota and that the shooting was a gross overreaction which justifies a punitive result.”
According to a press release, Douglas said Hart’s family are planning to file a $525 million wrongful-death suit against Walgreens and continue to call for a boycott of the store until the company no longer employs armed guards at stores in “the black, the brown and the homeless communities.”
“Although no one believes that Mr. Ciota planned to kill a man when he woke up that morning, his conduct reflects that he was inadequately trained and grossly unsuited to work as an armed security guard in a high traffic store frequented often by a diverse blend of consumers,” the statement continued.
A man who entered the store with Hart captured video of the scene following the shooting. It reportedly shows the security guard making a phone call while standing over the victim’s body.
Douglas said Hart was not shoplifting, but he and Ciota had argued over an item priced at $2.99. He also believes Hart, known as Sky Young, was targeted because he was Black and gay.
Walgreens issued a statement in which the company “extended our deepest and most sincere condolences” to Hart’s family, and noted that the security guard was “immediately terminated the security company” after the shooting.
“We are committed to providing a safe environment for our employees, patients and customers in the communities we serve,” the statement continued.