Lawsuit: Mistakes by Waffle House, security guard contributed to 2012 shooting death

Deonte Steven Brown of Hollywood was 18 when he was arrested in the July 15, 2012, shooting at a Waffle House on Savannah Highway.

Because of mistakes by a Waffle House restaurant and its security guard, a fight amid an unruly overnight crowd led to fatal gunfire there in July 2012, a murder victim’s family has alleged in a lawsuit.

Workers at 3565 Savannah Highway in West Ashley tried to shoo away customers when they started fighting around 4 a.m. that day.

But when the security guard forced Deonte Steven Brown outside along with the people he was fighting, Brown pulled a gun and started shooting into the crowd that had just left a nightclub, wounding his intended target. He unleashed another volley as he ran away, fatally striking DonTaye Reed, 19, in the back.

The wrongful death suit filed Feb. 3 by Reed’s family claimed that Waffle House staffers didn’t promptly notify the authorities when the fight broke out and that the actions of the guard hired because of the potentially violent overnight customers might have contributed to the outburst instead of quelling it.

It also alleged that the restaurant had failed to “warn patrons of the known dangerous propensities of invitees during the late-night and early morning weekend hours.”

Kelly Thrasher-Bruner, a spokeswoman for Atlanta-based Waffle House Inc., said Wednesday that it was the company’s policy not to comment on pending litigation. An employee who answered the telephone at the restaurant near Main Road said local staffers were not permitted to address the case.

The West Ashley attorneys representing Reed’s mother in the lawsuit, Curtis Bostic and Sean Wilson, also did not comment.

Brown, now 21, was convicted of murder in connection with Reed’s death, and he was sentenced in September to 50 years in prison. He is also named as a defendant in the suit.

At trial, prosecutors said Brown went to the Waffle House on July 15, 2012, with several of his friends who had been at a local club. He started yelling at another customer, Quinton Allen of Johns Island, “for no discernible reason,” then threw a drink on Allen, the prosecutors said.

Brown shot Allen in the arm as others forced him outside during the fight and Reed as he fled, the prosecutors said. They added after the trial that the shooting was a “senseless act that had grave consequences.”

But the lawsuit stated that the Waffle House should have taken steps to prevent the episode, considering the restaurant’s “history of violent incidents and disorderly patrons” during the wee hours on weekends.

To fight the problem, it had hired a security guard, whose name and employer wasn’t known to the attorneys who filed the suit, according to court paperwork.

But the restaurant failed to follow safe evacuation procedures during the situation that led to Reed’s death and the guard didn’t isolate Brown, the fight’s instigator, “for the safety of the other patrons,” the lawsuit alleged.

“Neither the franchise nor the security guard took adequate steps to provide for the protection of the patrons,” it stated. “Instead, the guard forced a number of the patrons to leave the establishment simultaneously.”

The restaurant, according to the suit, had a duty to act and protect Reed’s “life and well-being.”

Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.