Washington, D.C., September 28, 2018 - On November 6, 2015, a Harps grocery store in Mountain Home, Arkansas, sold a 9mm semiautomatic handgun that a man who had been committed to a mental hospital picked out and paid for in the store, and Harps then sold to a straw purchaser. Less than 24 hours later, the gun was used to shoot and kill Donald and LaDonna Rice in their home in Midway, Arkansas. The families of Don and Donna Rice filed suit today against Harps in Washington County, Arkansas. The Rice families are represented by Jonathan Lowy and Erin Davis of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence; Sturgis Sobin and Andrew Vaden of Covington & Burling, and Carter Stein and Will Bond of McMath Woods.
The complaint alleges Harps violated state and federal gun laws and regulations when a 17-year-old Harps employee sold a 9mm handgun to Talmadge Pendergrass, who was purchasing the 9mm handgun on behalf of Nicholas Roos. Although Roos selected and paid for the gun, Harps allowed Pendergrass to complete the background check to buy the gun. Pendergrass pleaded guilty to the federal offense of making a false statement in the acquisition of a gun. In his guilty plea, Pendergrass admitted to purchasing the 9mm handgun for Roos and also admitted Roos told him he could not purchase the 9mm because he had been previously committed to a mental institution. The illegal gun sale, which took approximately 30 minutes, was video recorded by a Harps surveillance camera. The complaint includes images from the surveillance footage as well as the background check form completed by Harps and Pendergrass.
Jonathan Lowy, Brady Center’s Vice President, Litigation, and co-counsel for the Rice estates, stated, "While most gun dealers care deeply about their responsibility to keep guns out of the wrong hands, unfortunately some gun dealers put profits over people, and endanger us all. When a gun dealer chooses to engage in irresponsible sales practices that arm dangerous people, they should be held responsible.”
Sturgis M. Sobin, Partner at the law firm of Covington & Burling, and co-counsel for the Rice estates, stated, “The negligent and unlawful actions by Harps endangered the community and led to this tragedy.”
The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence is dedicated to reducing gun injuries and deaths in America by stemming the causes of gun violence. The Brady Center works in the courts to reform dangerous gun industry practices that give criminals and dangerous people access to guns. For over 25 years, Brady has sued irresponsible gun companies on behalf of victims of gun violence, and has won numerous victories, including court decisions and settlements in Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Utah, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.
Covington & Burling has been a pro-bono partner with the Brady Center for over 20 years.
McMath Woods is proud to serve as local counsel in Arkansas for the Rice estates.
Brady has one powerful mission — to unite all Americans against gun violence. We work across Congress, the courts, and our communities with over 90 grassroots chapters, bringing together young and old, red and blue, and every shade of color to find common ground in common sense. In the spirit of our namesakes Jim and Sarah Brady, we have fought for over 45 years to take action, not sides, and we will not stop until this epidemic ends. It’s in our hands.