For the parents of Elijah DeWitt, the last five months have been what they call a “daily nightmare.”
DeWitt, who was a football and baseball standout at Jefferson High School, died after he was shot in a parking lot at Sugarloaf Mills, outside Dave and Busters, on Oct. 5. The incident has been described as an attempted robbery.
Now, DeWitt’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the mall, its owner and security officials as well as Dave and Buster’s.
“This is not the dream we had for our son,” Elijah’s parents, Craig and Dawn DeWitt, said in a statement released by their attorneys on Friday. “Instead it has become a daily nightmare that we are unable to wake up from.
“We are constantly reminded of the opportunities and moments that were taken away from him and sincerely hope that we can use our voices to help bring about some change that will prevent another family from experiencing this in the future.”
The lawsuit that was filed this week names several defendants, including Simon Property Group, Sugarloaf Mills Limited Partnership, Universal Protection Service LLC, Dave and Buster’s of Georgia LLC, Sugarloaf Mills security director Jason Choy and five individuals referred to as “John Does 1-5.”
The lawsuit alleges that the defendants in the case failed to keep the mall premises safe; allowed a public nuisance to exist; engaged in negligent employee hiring, training, supervision, and retention practices; and failure to voluntarily undertake a duty of care for Elijah DeWitt.
“When businesses know that their property is dangerous — either because of crime or other dangerous activity happening there, they have two options,” attorney Michael Rafi said.
“(One is to) warn visitors, so they know about the danger and can make an educated decision about whether to go to the property, or (the second is that) if they choose not to warn visitors, then they need to take reasonable safety measures to protect customers who are unaware of the danger. These defendants did not warn or keep people safe.”
Among the allegations outlined in the lawsuit is that there had been ongoing crime-related issues a Sugarloaf Mills before DeWitt was shot, and that the mall’s owners and security officials, as well as Dave and Buster’s officials, did not do enough to address those issues.
“Prior to Oct. 5, 2022, there had been numerous reports of criminal and dangerous activity at the premises and in its immediate surrounding area, including aggravated assaults, robberies, car break-ins, and firearm-related crimes, about which defendants knew,” the lawsuit states.
“For that reason, as well as others, dangerous criminal activity at the premises was reasonably foreseeable to defendants. Defendants were negligent in multiple ways, including but not limited to failing to satisfy industry standards, internal standards and negligence per se.”
Chandler Richardson and Kemare Bryan are awaiting trial on murder, aggravated assault and possession of a firearm during the commission of certain felonies charges in connection with the teen’s death. An arraignment hearing for Richardson was held Friday morning.
DeWitt had been on a date with his girlfriend at mall on the night he died. Gwinnett police said at the time that DeWitt had gotten into an altercation with Richardson and Bryan.
The DeWitt family has previously said his death was the result of a botched robbery.
“Elijah had his whole life ahead of him,” attorney Alex Brown said. “He was just beginning his senior year of high school and was set to continue his football career at the next level when his life was cut short on Oct. 5th.
“This incident was entirely preventable and should not have happened. It is our intention to hold the defendants responsible for this tragedy and obtain justice for Elijah’s family.”
Officials for Simon Property Group and Sugarloaf Mills could not be reached for comment on Friday.
Dave and Buster’s spokeswoman Karena Bibbins-McKeever told the Daily Post that the entertainment venue chain could not comment on the lawsuit.
“The company sends its sincerest sympathies and condolences to the family and friends of the victim of the incident,” she said. “We have cooperated with law enforcement during the investigation of this matter. At this time, we are unable to comment, as it is currently pending litigation.”