Scant days from the second anniversary of a mass shooting in Hesston, The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence filed suit on behalf of the family of murdered Excel Industries employee Joshua Higbee against A Pawn Shop, 519 N. Main, Newton.
The lawsuit alleges that A Pawn Shop negligently sold firearms in a "straw purchase," which were then used in a Feb. 25, 2016, workplace shooting
One of the guns was a semi-automatic assault rifle, similar to the type used by gunmen in recent mass shootings in Parkland, Florida, Las Vegas, Nevada, and Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Joshua Higbee was one of three people killed when Cedric Ford opened fire on his colleagues at the Excel Industries factory in Hesston. The shooting occurred during a rampage that started in Newton with Ford firing at random cars and stealing a vehicle on his way to the Excel plant. When the firing stopped, Ford killed three people, including Higbee, and injured 14 others.
"Joshua was a wonderful man and a wonderful father. It feels like we lost everything when he was taken from us," said Subrina Luke, Joshua Higbee's wife.
Ford was shot and killed by Hesston Fire Chief Doug Shroeder — who just this week was awarded a medal of valor by President Donald Trump.
The complaint alleges that A Pawn Shop sold an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle and a Glock semi-automatic handgun to Sarah Jo Hopkins, "despite numerous indications that she was acting as a straw purchaser for Ford." Federal law prohibited Ford, a convicted felon, from purchasing and possessing firearms. A straw purchase is when someone buys a gun for someone else, and it is a violation of federal law.
"Straw purchases are one of the primary ways that dangerous criminals get guns," said David Morantz, co-counsel for the plaintiff at Shamberg, Johnson & Bergman. "Gun dealers serve on the front lines of the battle to deter gun violence. This lawsuit will help ensure that gun dealers adhere to their duty and keep guns out of the hands of criminals."
Hopkins was originally charged with transferring weapons to a known felon, but that charge was amended to one count of misprision, also a felony. In Sept. 2016 she pleaded guilty to the amended charge. In her plea, Hopkins admitted that on Feb. 5, she redeemed an AK-47 rifle from a pawn shop in Newton and gave it to Ford.
She was sentenced on to a year on supervised release. U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren said that even the government said in its plea agreement there is no evidence Hopkins knew Ford planned to harm anyone, nor was there any evidence that Ford formulated a plan to shoot people before that day.
Shamberg, Johnson & Bergman and The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence filed the suit against the pawnshop in the District Court of Harvey County.
"Whatever your views are on gun issues, we can all agree that gun dealers have a responsibility to do what they reasonably can to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people," said Jonathan Lowy, Vice President, Litigation, and co-counsel for the plaintiff at The Brady Center. "When a gun dealer chooses to engage in irresponsible sales practices that arm dangerous people, that dealer should be held accountable."
Shamberg, Johnson & Bergman is a personal injury and civil litigation firm in Overland Park and Kansas City, Mo. The firm successfully represented the family of victims in the Overland Park Jewish Community Center shooting against Walmart, which sold one of the guns used in the incident.