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Victims’ Families Sue Dollar General, Gunman’s Parents in Racially-motivated Florida Store Shooting

A wrongful death lawsuit has been filed by the loved ones of three Black people killed in a racially-motivated shooting in August at a Dollar General in Jacksonville, Florida, accusing the bargain discount chain store and the gunman’s parents of negligence.

The lawsuit was filed in a Florida court, accusing the retailer of failing to take measures to keep customers and employees safe. It also accuses the parents of the suspected gunman, Ryan Christopher Palmeter, of failing to protect the public from “reasonably foreseeable criminal acts which were likely to be committed by their son.”

Killed in the August attack at a Dollar General on Kings Road in Jacksonville were 29-year-old Jerrald De’Shaun Gallion, 52-year-old Angela Michelle Carr, and 19-year-old Anolt Joseph “AJ” Laguerre Jr., who worked at the store as a clerk.

During a news conference Tuesday, civil rights lawyer Benjamin Crump, one of the attorneys representing the relatives of the victims, said, “Dollar General, blood is on your hands, too.”

Crump said the lawsuit is intended “to speak truth to power,” and accuses Dollar General of putting “profits over people” by not having a security guard on the premises at the time of the shooting.

“The presence of a security guard would have made all the difference in the world,” Crump said at the news conference, which was attended by the children and other relatives of those killed in the shooting.

The lawsuit was filed Monday in Duval County Circuit Court, naming as defendants Dollar General, its subsidiaries, and the security company it contracted, as well as Palmeter’s parents, Maryann and Stephen Palmeter.

The 91-page lawsuit alleges Dollar General failed to provide adequate security at the targeted store, despite it being in what the suit describes as a high-crime area.

Police say Ryan Palmeter went on an 11-minute killing rampage at the store on Aug. 26, 2023, while wearing a tactical vest and armed with a Glock handgun and an AR-15-style weapon that was marked with a swastika.

At a news conference the day after the massacre, the Jacksonville County sheriff’s office released a brief clip from the security footage showing the man he identified as Palmeter shooting at a black Kia 11 times outside the store, killing his first victim, Carr, before storming through the front sliding glass doors and gunning down victims at random.

Palmeter died by suicide as police responded to the scene, officials said.

Investigators described the shooting as being racially motivated. Sheriff’s officials say they discovered writings the alleged assailant had both on his person and at his home as “the diary of a madman,” with paragraph after paragraph full of offensive and hateful language, including racial slurs.

“Plainly put, this shooting was racially motivated, and he hated Black people. He wanted to kill n—,” Jacksonville County Sheriff T.K. Waters said at an Aug. 27 news conference. “That’s the one and only time that I will use that word.”

Investigators said Palmeter initially intended to attack a Family Dollar discount store in the Jacksonville area and had been spotted at Edward Waters University, a historically Black private college in Jacksonville, but in both cases he was deterred from any violence by the presence of a security guard. Palmeter eventually attacked the Dollar General store in the New Town section of Jacksonville, which the lawsuit described as “a criminal safe haven” that was “devoid of meaningful security measures.”

“While Palmeter was deterred from harming the public at his two preceding stops, at this Dollar General, there was nothing in place to again deter Palmeter from attacking and killing innocent persons,” the lawsuit states.

“If Dollar General just simply had somebody there to be security just as Family Dollar did, just as Edward Waters did, I wouldn’t be up here speaking about AJ,” Laguerre’s brother, Q’uantavius Laguerre, 25, said at Tuesday’s news conference.

He said that he and his brother were raised to always “do the right thing.”

“You know, go to school, don’t be in the streets, don’t sell drugs,” Laguerre said of the values his parents instilled in him and his brother. “Guess what AJ did? He followed and listened and this is what he gets for repayment — to go to work and die.”

Laguerre said he hopes the lawsuit will bring about change in the security practices of Dollar General, which, according to its website, has 19,000 stores in 47 states across the county and employs 185,000 people.

The Dollar General attack was similar to a massacre that occurred in May 2022 at a Tops grocery store in Buffalo, New York, in which 10 Black people were fatally shot by a teenaged, self-described white supremacist, Payton Gendron, who pleaded guilty to murder and hate crime charges and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

In the Tops shooting, an armed security guard, retired Buffalo police officer Aaron Salter, was killed while confronting Gendron, who was wearing body armor and wielding an AR-15-style rifle, according to investigators. The Tops store also had a bank of security cameras that were monitored by security staff.

No lawsuits were filed against Tops in the aftermath of the shooting.

The Dollar General suit alleges the store was warned “through its agents and/or employees,” prior to the shooting, of “numerous criminal acts, including but not limited to, shootings, assaults, muggings, batteries, burglaries, robberies and drug dealing, [that] occurred on or around the subject premises, and throughout the adjacent area.”

The lawsuit alleges Dollar General was in a “superior position to appreciate such hazards and take necessary foreseeable steps to prevent harm to invitees, including customers and employees” and was negligent in failing to do so.

By allegedly failing to employ proper security, the suit accuses Dollar General of “creating conditions that rendered the store an attractive location for criminal activity.”

The lawsuit also accuses Palmeter’s parents, Maryann and Stephen Palmeter of Orange Park, Florida, of negligence for allegedly failing to take steps to protect the general public from their son, who lived with them. The suit alleges the parents failed to take action “including but not limited to informing the authorities about the threat posed by Ryan Palmeter and by allowing him and/or assisting him to retain his firearms, despite the evident danger posed.”

The lawsuit further alleges the parents knew their son “struggled with mental health issues and was even involuntarily committed under Florida’s Baker Act.” The Baker Act allows for the “involuntary examination” of individuals judged to meet certain criteria, including that “without treatment, the individual will pose a serious threat to themselves or others.”

The suit alleges that Palmeter’s parents knew their son “was a dangerous person with an obsession regarding firearms and violence, living in a room filled with prescription medication and alcohol, as well as firearms,” and were aware that their son “was a ticking time bomb.”

The lawsuit includes photos taken of Ryan Palmeter’s room showing a table lined with what appear to be prescription drugs and bottles of alcohol. Other images taken of Palmeter’s room including one showing a sign reading “Join the Revolution,” as well as various books on guns, including one titled “The Christian and his Machine Gun.”

“All these items were in plain view and prominently visible” to Palmeter’s parents, according to the lawsuit.

Efforts by ABC News to reach Maryann and Stephen Palmeter for comment were unsuccessful. Dollar General did not respond to requests from ABC News for comment on the lawsuit.

In the wake of the shooting, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration launched an investigation of Dollar General’s safety protocols and procedures, a probe that, according to the agency’s website, is still being conducted.

Dollar General issued a statement in response to the investigation, saying, “Since the hate-motivated violence that took place in our Kings Road store on August 26, our focus has remained on supporting and caring for our employees, the families of the victims and the Jacksonville community.”

“We do not believe there is any connection between store conditions and the tragic events of August 26,” the Dollar General statement continues. “We are cooperating with OSHA in what we understand to be its standard investigation protocol following such an event.”

Source: ABC News