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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Abené Clayton

California mass shooting survivor sues farm owner for negligence in attack

A young Latino man in a brown baseball hat and Reebok hoodie sweatshirt sits at a table filled with microphones and covered with a pink cloth.
Pedro Romero Perez, center, next to his attorney Donald Magilligan, right, in Half Moon Bay, California, on Friday. Photograph: Haven Daley/AP

The lone survivor of a mass shooting at a northern California mushroom farm is suing the farm’s owner for negligence in the attack that spanned two locations and left seven people dead and one person, Pedro Felix Romero Perez, injured.

Perez, 24, was shot five times, and his older brother Jose Romero Perez was killed in the 23 January 2023 shooting at California Terra Garden and Concord Farms in Half Moon Bay, a coastal community about 30 miles south of San Francisco. He is suing California Terra Garden and its owner, Xianmin Guan, for compensation for the physical and emotional trauma he is facing and for the financial losses he is incurring because he can’t work.

Another lawsuit has been filed by the same law office against the same parties on behalf of Jose Romero Perez’s wife, Marciana Rodriguez Roque, for the wrongful death of her husband, with whom she shared four children.

“We’re trying to shine a light on the way these farm workers are treated,” Duffy Magilligan, one of the attorneys representing Perez and Roque said.

“They do backbreaking, grueling farming work in the elements so you and I can have food,” he continued. “And in exchange for that, these landowners treat them like they’re animals, making them live in the shipping containers.”

Magilligan and his fellow attorneys are requesting a jury trial but won’t know whether one will be granted for at least another year.

The suits, filed in San Mateo county’s superior court on 3 April, allege that the farm’s owner failed to take steps to protect their employees from “reasonably foreseeable” violence.

Law enforcement officers was called to the shooting around 2pm on the afternoon of 23 January 2023. Upon arriving, they found four people dead and Perez wounded at the farm. Three miles away, at Concord Farms, they found three more people dead.

This shooting came two days after 11 people were shot and killed in a ballroom dance studio in Monterey Park, a small city just outside Los Angeles. The reporting that followed the Half Moon Bay shooting also illuminated the substandard and hazardous company-owned living conditions that workers like the Perez brothers were in. Pedro lived in a shipping container with no insulation or running water, as did several of his peers, according to the lawsuit.

After the shooting, San Mateo county supervisor Ray Mueller inspected the premises and directed the county to red-tag every living unit, to indicate that it was uninhabitable, according to ABC 7 News.

“California Terra Garden, Inc. is a farm in Half Moon Bay that grows mushrooms in the dark. The darkness allows the fungus to thrive. It also conceals the deplorable living conditions that [the defendant] provided to farmworkers living and working on the San Mateo County Coast,” the lawsuit reads.

The shooting that injured Perez was not the first gun incident on the farm. In July 2022, nearly seven months before the mass shooting, Martin Medina, a manager at California Terra Garden, tried to break into an employee’s trailer and threatened to kill them and their family. Medina allegedly fired a single shot from a handgun into the trailer. The shot didn’t hit anyone but travelled through the trailer and into another trailer that belonged to Yetao Bing, one of the people killed in the January 2023 shooting, according to the lawsuit.

Despite this event, and alleged shooter Chunli Zhao being placed under a restraining order for threatening to kill his roommate in 2013, attorneys for the plaintiffs say owner Guan failed to consider the threat Zhao posed and to plan for the potential of violence.

After the shooting, the California division of occupational health and safety (Cal/Osha) investigated California Terra Garden and Concord Farms and cited them for 22 violations including failing to establish active-shooter protocols.

“We demand more from landlords,” Magilligan said of the message he hopes Perez and Roque’s lawsuit will send. “We demand more from these businesses and we don’t want to let them take advantage of this vulnerable communities of migrant farm workers.”

Attorneys for Guan and California Terra Garden have not responded to the lawsuit, but have 30 days to do so.

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