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Security guard charged with murder in fatal shooting of suspected shoplifter

Jonathan Hart, 21, was shot and killed at a Walgreens in Hollywood, California, on Dec. 2.
Image: A security guard fatally shot Jonathan Hart at a Walgreens in Hollywood, California, on Dec. 2, 2018.
A security guard fatally shot Jonathan Hart at a Walgreens in Hollywood, California, on Dec. 2, 2018.KNBC

A Walgreens security guard was charged with murder after he allegedly shot a suspected shoplifter in the back as the man fled from the store, prosecutors said.

Donald Vincent Ciota II, 28, was charged with one count of murder, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said in a press release Monday.

Ciota allegedly confronted Jonathan Hart, 21, inside the Hollywood, California, store on Dec. 2 after accusing Hart of stealing, prosecutors said in the press release. The two men got into a physical altercation, and Ciota pulled out a gun and is "alleged to have fatally shot Hart in the back as he ran away," the release stated.

Hart, who is believed to have been homeless, was shot in the neck, according to a statement from his family's attorney, Carl Douglas.

“We are heartened, and indeed we are encouraged that district attorney Jackie Lacey has shown the leadership to file murder charges against Donald Vincent Ciota II, arising out of the tragic death of Jonathon Hart. A homeless, gay, black man whose life was tragically taken far too soon," Douglas said at a news conference Monday, adding that the Hart family plans on filing a lawsuit against Walgreens.

A spokesperson for the company said in a statement Tuesday that it no longer works with the security company Ciota is employed by.

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

Famed attorney Mark Geragos, who is representing Ciota, criticized the charge.

"This isn’t a murder case," he told NBC News in a statement. "Mr. Ciota was defending the customers, the store and himself."

Geragos said a police report states that Hart entered the Walgreens with two other men and they were "in the process of robbing the store" when Ciota confronted them.

"When Mr. Ciota tried to stop them one of the robbers hit him in the face. One shot was fired," he said.

Ciota is being held on a $3 million bail. If convicted of the murder charge, he faces 50 years to life in prison.