Labresha King spent the holidays weaning herself off medications and filling out job applications.
Her PTSD has worsened with the weather, she says. Men who wear hoodies and stuff their hands into their pockets to keep warm remind her of the robber who fatally shot her co-worker at a Dollar General in east Oak Cliff last November.
Her therapist helped her work through the memories and found medicine that helped her sleep. But since the store fired her — without warning or explanation, she says — she can’t afford to continue appointments or pay for her prescriptions.
Now she’s suing Dollar General, accusing the company of wrongfully terminating her in retaliation for her requests for better security measures and medical leave. King wants compensation for back pay and emotional distress, as well as medical care for her PTSD.
The Dollar General at 4807 Sunnyvale St. was a hot spot for crime even before it opened, King said — as she helped install the shelves for the new location, thieves took workers’ tools.
The day the store opened in November 2016, it was robbed — the first of four robberies King endured before she was fired this spring.
The store was the perfect target for a robber. There are no lights at the back of the building, and the lights out front shut off automatically after hours. The parking-lot lights are motion-activated.
There was no sign forbidding guns in the store, the cash registers didn’t have panic buttons and the sign announcing a remotely monitored security system was a sham, according to the lawsuit filed Nov. 29 in Dallas County, which seeks between $200,000 and $1 million in damages.
As manager, King was the one to relay her employees’ concerns to the corporation’s higher-ups.
Gabrielle Monique Simmons was a customer at the store before she applied to work there. The 27-year-old raised her six children at an apartment complex just around the corner and eventually befriended King.
When Simmons asked for a job, King warned her of the robberies, she said. But Simmons, whose fiancé was unemployed, was desperate for work.
As Simmons closed up the store for the night in October 2017, a robber held her at gunpoint. King said she was horrified by the attack, but Simmons insisted on returning to work.
“Gabby was strong. … That was my girl,” King said. “She was like, ‘Please, I need this job, just give me a week.’”
King often stayed late in the evenings to help other workers feel safe.
“That’s the least I can do,” she remembers telling the employees. “Y’all are here because of me.”
The night of Nov. 6, 2017, she and Simmons were at the store, joking with each other between customers.
King was tidying up the canned-goods aisle when a 15-year-old in a hoodie walked in. Surveillance footage shows him force Simmons to the register at gunpoint, hold a bag open for her to stuff the till’s contents into and shoot her before fleeing.
“Before she even fell, she looked at me. … She said, ‘Bresha, help,’” King said.
King rushed over but couldn’t help her friend. Simmons died in her arms.
Simmons’ face in that moment haunts King, she said. Without it, she thinks she might be able to fall asleep at night.
Dallas police found the robber a few days later. He’s now in a juvenile facility, serving a 35-year sentence for her killing. Another male suspected of acting as a lookout hasn’t been identified.
When the store reopened a couple of days after Simmons’ killing, a security guard watched over the employees, who were allowed to close an hour early during daylight saving time.
The employees also asked for more lighting, exterior security cameras, aluminum rolling doors and a layout change to make it easier for cashiers to keep an eye on the door — none of which they got, according to the lawsuit.
Workers found their own ways to feel safer. Those opening the store before sunrise varied their arrival times, circled the building before going in, checked the dumpster and dark corners for hidden figures and kept their cars’ headlights on as they entered the store, according to the lawsuit.
Despite that, a robber still managed to surprise King and a clerk as they unlocked the door March 18.
The man grabbed the clerk by the neck and kept his gun pointed at King, forcing her to open the safe. He then hit King and and forced the clerk into a corner while waiting out the nine-minute delay programmed into the store’s safe.
The next morning, King had a panic attack at work. Her doctors ordered her to take FMLA leave.
When one of her doctors called in June to let King know her Dollar General medical insurance plan had been canceled, she was shocked. One corporate employee claimed to know nothing of her termination, according to the lawsuit, and a district manager informed her she’d been fired but did not provide a reason.
Dollar General declined to comment on pending litigation and did not respond to other requests for comment.
King found a job stocking shelves at a Family Dollar closer to her Mesquite home but left when management discussed moving her to a register, she said.
She’s hoping for a job at a bigger store or a mall with security, where she hopes she’ll feel safe enough to interact with customers without risking a panic attack. Otherwise, she plans to move to New Mexico, where her young son’s father can help take care of him.
King said that although she’s never been a drinker, she sometimes uses alcohol in addition to her sleeping-pill prescriptions to get to sleep. When that doesn’t work, her best friend comes over. Sometimes she prays with King, and sometimes she just sits with her while she cries.
“I refuse to just let it control my life,” King said. “I have to pull it together for my son.”
Info obtained online https://www.dallasnews.com/author/sara-coello