Los Angeles

Prosecutors Decline to File Against Security Guard Who Punched Suspected Shoplifter

The suspected shoplifter had finished gathering items into her bag and was about to depart the busy 99 Cents Only Store in Van Nuys when she discovered the exit was blocked--by the security guard.

As she attempted to walk around him, he stepped to the side and stayed in front of her, security camera video shows.  Likewise, when she tried to go around the other way, he stepped in front.

Store customers could hear the guard demand the woman surrender her bag for inspection, but she was having none of it, and the security guard had to decide what he would do next.

It remains a sensitive issue for retailers: How far should security go to prevent shoplifting?

In December at a Walgreens in Hollywood, an encounter between a security guard and a suspected shoplifter named Jonathan Hart, 21, ended with Hart shot to death. The guard, Donald Vincent Ciota II, has been charged with murder. Ciota, 28, pleaded not guilty.  By one account, there had been pushing before the gunfire.

In another use of force at a different type of location last month, a religious school for girls in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles, a confrontation between another armed security guard and a self-described "first amendment auditor" who refused to stop taking video led to a shooting in which Zhoie Perez was wounded in the leg. The guard was detained by police, but the District Attorney's Office declined to file charges, instead asking police to do further investigation.

In the doorway of the Van Nuys 99 Cents Only Store Thursday, the guard decided to reach around and try to take the woman's bag. The pair tussled for a few seconds, but she kept her grip on the bag. 

It was at that point that the guard was heard referring to the woman with a curse word, according to a witness Rony Preza, who had begun recording with his cellphone camera as the tension level escalated. 

The woman could be seen taking items out of her bag and throwing them toward the guard. He approached her, with his arm extended and holding what appeared to police to be a pepper spray device. The woman reacted, swinging her arm and striking the guard in the face, according to Det. Peter Barba of Los Angeles Police Van Nuys Division. The guard proceeded to punch her, a display of suglasses toppled over, and after she moved deeper into the store, he approached her and threw a second punch before he returned back to the front door.

Moments later, without her bag, she left, but did not go far, as arriving police officers took her into custody. She was identified as Sonjia Broussard.

Monday, the Los Angeles City Attorney's office filed a misdemeanor complaint charging Broussard with theft and battery against the guard. She was due to be arraigned Monday afternoon.

In court, a woman who identified herself as a Broussard niece, Sherena Johnson, said she believes the guard did go overboard and should face consequences.

Authorities considered whether to file a charge against the guard.

"He used more force than I would have expected," said Barba.

Ultimately, authorities concluded the guard was reacting to being hit in the face when he struck the woman, and the guard was not charged, according to Barba.

It appeared the guard would benefit from further training in how to deal with such situations, Barba said.

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