Derek Whitener is the artistic and education director of The Firehouse Theater in Farmers Branch, Texas. On January 14, 2017, he was confronted by two masked men in the parking lot of a Target in Uptown Dallas after stopping to pick up some groceries.
Inside the store, Derek told Target employees, including the head of security, what had happened. Despite the fact that he was clearly unnerved, the employees’ response to Derek was clear: Do not call the police. We’ll handle the situation ourselves.
The store’s head of security confronted the two men who had approached Derek and asked them to leave the premises. Derek was then told that it was safe to return to his car. As he walked through the parking lot, alone, the two men returned. Reports say that both were wearing gorilla masks. One of them said, “We hearD that you fear us. We’re going to teach you what fear is.” The two men beat Derek with the wooden rod. He suffered a fractured skull and a catastrophic brain injury that left him with permanent damage. He has difficulty speaking and is unable to perform high-level motor tasks.
Derek was represented by Chris Hamilton and Paul Wingo who filed suit against Target, as well as the location’s head of security and three other employees. Hamilton claimed that the store was negligent in failing to call police to deal with the situation, and then by allowing Derek to walk back to his car without an escort.
“A store has an obligation to be honest with the customer, to not interfere with the customer calling the police, and to provide basic protection,” Hamilton said. “Target is systematically using security personnel that are only focused and trained on asset protection, and they apparently don’t consider the customers to be an asset.”
Hamilton showed that Derek’s attack wasn’t an isolated case and that from 2014-2017, more than 200 crimes had been reported in the immediate area.
“Work in theater is Derek’s passion, and it is really what drives him in continuing to try to recover,” Hamilton said at a news conference in downtown Dallas. “He’s at a 10 or 20 percent of work capacity versus where he was before.”
Fortunately, Hamilton Wingo was able to successfully resolve the case with a favorable confidential settlement. While Derek may never be the same after this tragic attack, at least he has the lifelong financial security to make sure he can focus on making the best recovery possible.