A woman walk past a Walgreens flagship store at the corner of Sunset and Vine in Hollywood, California, on January 15, 2013. The store was the scene Dec. 2, 2018, of the fatal shooting of Jonathan Hart, 21, an unarmed homeless man, by security guard Donald Vincent Ciota II, who suspected Hart of shoplifting. Ciota, 28, of Covina, has been charged with murder in Hart's death.
Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Former Walgreens security guard charged with murder in homeless man’s shooting

Donald Vincent Ciota II, 28, of Covina, is charged with one count of murder in the slaying of Jonathan Hart, 21, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Jail records show Ciota is being held in the Los Angeles County Jail in lieu of $3 million bond. 

If convicted, Ciota faces 50 years to life in prison. NBC Los Angeles reported that Ciota is represented by famed celebrity attorney Mark Geragos.

A news release from District Attorney Jackie Lacey said that Ciota was charged Friday after her office finished reviewing the slaying, which took place on Dec. 2 inside the Walgreens at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street. The release said that Ciota, who suspected Hart of shoplifting, confronted the younger man, which led to a physical scuffle.

“Ciota then pulled out his firearm and is alleged to have fatally shot Hart in the back as he ran away,” the news release said

NBC News reported that Hart was shot in the neck. Police officials told CBS Los Angeles two days after the shooting that Hart was not armed. 

Friends who were in the store with Hart when he was shot denied that he was shoplifting, the CBS affiliate said. A vigil was held in his honor two days after his death and several protests have been held in his name, the most recent two days before Christmas.

Civil rights attorney Carl E. Douglas, who is representing Hart’s family, said the guard confronted Hart and his friends over an item that cost $2.99. Douglas accused Ciota of racially profiling the group, which consisted of black men.

“The guard feels the man push him one time,” Douglas told NBC Los Angeles last month. “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.”

Footage of the immediate aftermath of the shooting, which Douglas posted on Twitter and his firm posted on Facebook, shows Hart lying facedown and motionless amid a pool of wine and broken bottles as a man stands over him and talks on a cellphone. The tweet indicates that the man, who appears to have a gun holstered at his waist, is Ciota. 

“After seeing an eyewitnesses video, we now know that the guard DID NOTHING TO HELP JONATHAN after he shot him,” Douglas’ tweet stated

The 23,500-square-foot store where Hart died, which was opened in 2013 as Walgreens’ first West Coast flagship store, includes a frozen yogurt station, a sushi bar, a coffee and espresso bar, a juice and smoothie bar and a wine and liquor shop.

See the footage of the shooting aftermath below. Warning: The footage is graphic and may be unsuitable for some viewers.

Other tweets by Douglas, a protégé of late O.J. Simpson attorney Johnnie Cochran who also worked on Simpson’s 1994 murder case, alleged that Los Angeles-area Walgreens stores have armed security guards only in the “black, brown, homeless and (LGBT) communities.” He suggested a boycott of the chain to “(hit) Walgreens where it hurts.” 

Douglas said at a news conference Monday that Hart’s family, which includes a twin sister, is glad to see a murder charge filed against Ciota. 

“We are heartened, and indeed we are encouraged, that District Attorney Jackie Lacey has shown the leadership to file murder charges against Donald Ciota II, arising out of the tragic Dec. 2, 2018, death of 21-year-old Jonathan Hart, a homeless, gay, black man whose life was tragically taken far too soon,” Douglas said. “This process of responsibility is now just beginning and we are heartened that justice will be on the way.

“But now, we must turn to (the) responsibility of Walgreens, because the death of Jonathan Hart has left blood on the hands of executives at Walgreens, as well.”

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Hart’s family told KTLA that Hart, who was also known as Sky Young, aspired to be a hairdresser. Those who knew him said he was always smiling.

“He was a beautiful spirit,” friend Melanie Bryant told KTLA. “He was a beautiful human being.”

Hart’s mother, Psychesia Hart, criticized Ciota’s actions. Like Ciota, Psychesia Hart works as a security guard.

“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,” Hart told the news station. “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 the Hart family plans to sue Walgreens for $525 million in damages. 

The company issued a statement Tuesday in which it said it no longer uses the security company that employed Ciota. 

“We have cooperated with authorities and will continue to support their prosecution of this case," the statement obtained by NBC News said. “We are fully committed to providing a safe environment for our employees, patients and customers in the communities we serve.”

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