Judge dismisses suit in 2011 Kroger store shooting

Friday, May 23, 2014

A wrongful death lawsuit brought against Kroger Co. by the mother of a man fatally shot by a store manager during an attempted robbery in Indianapolis has been dismissed by a federal judge.

Southern Indiana U.S. District Court Judge Tanya Walton Pratt dismissed the lawsuit Wednesday, ruling that Kroger could not be held responsible for the 2011 death of Jeremi Atkinson, 26.

Previously Marion County prosecutors cleared the shooter, saying Elijah "Levi" Elliott -- a 24-year-old North Putnam High School and Wabash College graduate -- had been justified under Indiana law when he shot Atkinson during a robbery attempt.

Elliot had a permit to carry a handgun for three years and said he knew he was violating a Kroger policy barring employees from carrying weapons. Nonetheless, Elliott said he feared for his life and does not regret his actions.

"I hoped I would never have had to use my weapon for protection," he said at the time. "But Mr. Atkinson chose to commit a violent and dangerous act."

Surveillance footage and witness testimony indicate the suspect came up behind an unarmed security guard, ordering her into the office. A second Kroger employee reportedly saw Atkinson grab the guard in a chokehold, shoving her against a wall.

That employee hollered for Elliott. When the manager responded, the suspect let the guard go and reportedly lunged instead at Elliott, who fired his gun at Atkinson.

"At that point, he charged after me in an office where I had no position to retreat. That's all it is," Elliott said at the time.

"It's a regrettable situation, and I do think about it every single day."

Elliott resigned a month after the shooting.

Toni Atkinson filed the suit in July 2012 on behalf of her son, who was shot Dec. 26, 2011, at the 71st Street Kroger store.

The suit charged the supermarket chain was negligent for failing to supervise employees and enforce its own safety polices, which prohibit workers from carrying firearms while on duty.

Judge Pratt disagreed, siding with the Kroger argument that it had no legal obligation to enforce the policy.

"Mr. Elliott secretly carried a concealed gun without Kroger's consent, and testified that he used the gun in self-defense for his own protection," the judge noted in making her decision. "There is no record of evidence that Kroger willfully and wantonly caused harm to Mr. Atkinson."

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