Detroit shooting victim sues gas station after clerk locks customers inside

Kara Berg
The Detroit News

One of the three men who was shot inside a Detroit gas station May 6 has filed a lawsuit against ExxonMobil Corp. and the owner of the gas station for failing to properly train a clerk who locked the men inside with an armed man who threatened to shoot everyone inside if the clerk did not let him out.

Anthony Bowden, 60, had gone into the gas station in the 12800 block of West McNichols in Detroit at about 3 a.m. May 6 to get money from the ATM before his early shift began at Dollar Tree, according to the lawsuit, which was filed last week in Wayne County Circuit Court.

When Bowden entered the gas station, he saw the alleged shooter, Samuel McCray, arguing with gas station clerk Al-Hassan Aiyash, who was in a bulletproof vestibule, according to the lawsuit. McCray's card had been declined for an approximately $4 purchase and he was angry, police said.

Interior, through the glass door, of the closed Mobil gas station on W. McNichols, where three people were recently shot, in Detroit, Michigan on May 19, 2023.

Aiyash locked the gas station doors with a button in the vestibule, trapping McCray, Bowden and two other customers inside, prosecutors said. Even after McCray said, "If you don’t let me leave, I’m going to start shooting," Aiyash did not unlock the door, according to the lawsuit.

He allegedly ignored pleas from Bowden, Gregory Kelly and David Langston to unlock the door and kept arguing with McCray, according to the lawsuit.

When McCray started shooting, he struck Bowden three times, injured Langston and killed Kelly, according to the lawsuit.

"Locking 3 innocent people inside of building with a person threatening to shoot them over $4.00 shows a complete disregard for human life over profit," according to the lawsuit. "This store clerk was obviously trained to lock the door and protect the gas station’s assets at all costs.”

McCray is charged with first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder, felon in possession of a firearm and four counts of felony firearm. Aiyash is charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Ali Dagher, the attorney for the Mobil gas station, said the gas station's owner is devastated by what happened May 6.

"The owner reached out to the family of the victims and provided support to try to heal the great pain that has been inflicted on the families by a cold-blooded killer who took the life of Mr. Kelly and injured two other patrons," Dagher said in an email. The owner paid for Kelly's funeral expenses, Dagher said.

Detroit's Buildings, Safety, Engineering, and Environmental Department closed the business because the city said it was unlicensed.

Gas station clerk Al-Hassan Aiyash, inset, was charged with involuntary manslaughter after he locked the doors to prevent a possible shoplifter from leaving because his actions escalated the situation and led to three customers being shot, one fatally, a magistrate said Friday.

Aiyash's attorney, Jamil Khuja, said during Aiyash's arraignment that the prosecution's theory tries to hold Aiyash criminally responsible for a crime someone else committed.

"When this happened, he's at work, he's by no means involving himself in any criminal activity. He's at work performing his job," Khuja said. "It's really not fair, while presumed innocent, to hold him in custody while (prosecutors) test out a legal theory that's never been done before. ... He was doing his job. Did he panic and act inappropriately in a way? Maybe, but that's the best they can argue here."

The lawsuit claims ExxonMobil and SMM Investment were negligent in training and screening Aiyash, especially on how to manage hostile customers and what to do when a threat is made.

"Only after the hail of bullets, did the gas station employee unlock the door," according to the lawsuit, though prosecutors indicated last week that Aiyash had actually unlocked the door about 15 seconds prior to McCray allegedly beginning to shoot, though he did not tell anyone he had done so.

"Instead of simply letting the armed man leave or offering shelter behind the bullet proof glass to its three innocent customers, (Aiyash) sacrificed the men over a $4.00 dispute."