Louisville gun store ignored ‘obvious red flags’ when Old National Bank shooter bought AR-15, survivors say | News

Second Amendment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — A civil lawsuit filed against a Louisville gun store aims to hold it accountable for the mass shooting in April 2023 at Old National Bank, claiming the shop’s owners “decided the profit from one gun sale was more important than protecting the community.”

A team of local and national lawyers and gun control advocates announced the filing of the civil lawsuit Tuesday against River City Firearms, the store on Preston Highway that sold an AR-15, ammunition and several accessories to Connor Sturgeon, the 25-year-old Old National Bank employee who used what he purchased six days later to kill five people and injure eight others at his downtown Louisville workplace.

“This is a weapon of mass destruction, a weapon specifically designed for warfare,” Karen Tutt, whose husband, Jim, was killed by Sturgeon, said in a news conference Tuesday. “They have to be held accountable for the unconscionable business strategies, for who they sell to and the practices they use to sell guns.”

The lawsuit claims that River City Firearms not only failed to stop Sturgeon’s purchase but “used the opportunity to make additional profit” by allowing him to also leave with “three additional 30-round large-capacity magazines, a red-dot sight to increase the accuracy of his aim, and a vertical grip for greater control over the weapon.”

Those things, the lawsuit claims, made Sturgeon — “a novice shooter” — more deadly. A witness in the store, the lawsuit said, saw an employee teaching Sturgeon how to hold and load the gun and behaving “oddly.”

That witness, the lawsuit said, turned to her husband upon hearing there was a mass shooting April 10 and said “I bet it’s that kid from the store.”

“The tragedy that took place at Old National Bank is infinitely more horrific because it didn’t need to happen,” said David Neiman with Romanucci & Blandin, LLC, a Chicago-based firm with a history of representing victims and survivors of mass shootings around the country.

Neiman repeatedly called Sturgeon’s acts “predictable and preventable.”

Old National Bank Victims Lawsuit News Conference

A team of local and national lawyers and gun control advocates announced the filing of the civil lawsuit against a River City Firearms, the Louisville store that sold an AR-15 to the Old National Bank shooter. Jan. 23, 2024. (WDRB Photo)


“This mass shooting just was not the act of one troubled man, no,” he said. “As our complaint alleges, the shooter was able to purchase an assault rifle because River City ignored obvious red flags that any reasonable employee in the store should have noticed. They were trained to notice these red flags. And, in fact, a witness in the store did notice these red flags.”

The five bank employees killed in the shooting were Joshua Barrick, 40, a senior vice president; Deana Eckert, 57, an executive administrative officer; Tommy Elliott, 63, also a senior vice president; Juliana Farmer, 45, a loan analyst; and Tutt, 64, a commercial real estate market executive. Police officer Nick Wilt, who rushed toward the building on Main Street with his partner, Officer Cory Galloway, was shot and critically wounded.

It was the deadliest mass shooting in Louisville since 1989, when Joseph Wesbecker killed seven people and himself at Standard Gravure, his former workplace.

Dana Mitchell, Julie Andersen, James Evans and Stephanie Schwartz filed the lawsuit in Jefferson Circuit Court on Monday, along with the families of Tutt and Barrick.

Tad Thomas, a Louisville attorney who is part of the team of lawyers bringing the lawsuit against the gun store, said no survivors of the shooting took part in Tuesday’s news conference because hearing the stories of April 10 remains “simply too painful for them.”

“They need more time,” he said. “Perhaps, they’ll never be ready.”

Much of the legal standing for the lawsuit was laid out Tuesday by Alla Lefkowitz, senior director of affirmative litigation at Everytown Law, a team of lawyers that travel the country working with survivors of gun violence. Lefkowitz said gun stores have a legal obligation to “evaluate each sale” as it happens. The consequences of failing to do, she said “are just too great.”

“Every business in the United States has a legal obligation to not expose the public to a reasonable risk of harm,” Lefkowitz said, adding that this can also be the case for the sale of cars and fireworks. “The essence of what they do is to evaluate transactions and determine that they are legal and they are not endangering the public.”

Every company that wants to sell guns, she said, has to file for a federal firearms license, through which they “take on certain obligations.” She said if a prospective buyer shows no training with a gun or any discernment for what gun they choose to buy, it’s a sign they may be purchasing it for someone else, planning on trafficking it or worse.

“In many cases, what I’ve seen is that could be an indicator — and this is what they’re trained on — that the person is unfortunately purchasing the firearm for the intent of ending their own life,” she said. “And, in some cases, the purpose is to commit a mass shooting such as this one.

“River City Firearms failed in its obligation that day.”

In its investigative file of the Old National Bank shooting, LMPD released Sturgeon’s receipt from the gun purchase. The day he purchased the gun, ammunition and accessories for $762.90, Sturgeon wrote of his plans to carry out the shooting, saying he “would not have been able to do this” were it more difficult to buy a gun.

LMPD’s investigative file included a large collection of Sturgeon’s personal writings that noted his struggle with mental health. He also wrote about his desire to “make an impact” and show how easy it was for someone with his level of history of mental illness to purchase a gun. In his rambling journal entries, he rails against Democrats, Republicans and even the National Rifle Association.

Sturgeon wrote in an April 3 journal entry about his struggle with depression, including how he was unable to escape it through therapy, medications or other self-care methods, according to the file.

The next day, he purchased the gun used in the shooting.

On the night of April 9, Sturgeon wrote that something “snapped” the week prior, according to the file. He apologized to his family but hoped it would “send a message to those with power.”

After learning of a note Sturgeon left with his roommate, his mother told a 911 dispatcher the morning of the shooting that her son “didn’t even own a gun.” An interview with Sturgeon’s family disclosed that he was in “active therapy for mental health issues and on various medication for mental health.” He made no statements about hurting himself or others at an appointment the Thursday before the shooting, according to the file.

Family members also said during the interview that Sturgeon had attempted suicide the previous year and voluntarily checked into a hospital. The week before the shooting, Sturgeon told his mother that he wanted to take leave from his job because of a panic attack but that he “could not pinpoint” what was going on.

“Instead of asking how can we bring a lawsuit against a gun store for making a sale, you might ask how can we not try to prevent River City Firearms from selling the next AR-15, without the proper duty of care, that could be used to kill your person and inflict pain on your family,” Tutt said.

Kentucky is not among 19 states that have passed so-called “red flag” or “extreme risk” legislation, including the bordering states of Indiana, Illinois and Virginia. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has urged his state’s lawmakers to adopt a similar measure in the wake of the Covenant School shooting in Nashville in March 2023.

Bills creating such laws have failed to gain traction in the Kentucky General Assembly in recent years, even with bipartisan sponsorship, the backing of mass shooting survivor Whitney Austin and U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s support of a bill providing funding to states that approve the laws.

Kentucky Sen. Whitney Westerfield, R-Fruit Hill, presented to lawmakers late last year two versions of a proposed law that would at least temporarily remove a gun from someone if they are deemed a threat to themselves or others.

“We should be able … to come up with some solution to respect the 2nd Amendment rights while still protecting that individual from themselves or from the harm of others from that person,” Westerfield said in December. “… I believe it is your obligation to not be afraid to have difficult conversations about the toughest issues.”

Thomas said there are no plans to include the Sturgeon family in any lawsuits, saying there’s nothing to say they did anything wrong. They are, however, looking “up the chain,” Thomas said, at other potential lawsuits against the manufacturer of the gun or the accessories.

“We’re going to leave no stone unturned,” the lawsuit said.

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