The family of a Wilmington woman killed in a 2016 drive-by shooting on Wednesday sued Cabela’s Inc. in Delaware state court, accusing the outdoor sporting retailer of negligence in selling the murder weapon in a straw purchase.
The lawsuit, filed by the family of 19-year-old Keshall “KeKe” Anderson, alleged that Cabela’s violated state and federal laws when its Wilmington store sold a .40 caliber Smith & Wesson pistol to Brilena Hardwick, who then turned the weapon over to her boyfriend, John Kuligowski. Kuligowski, a convicted felon, was barred from purchasing firearms, court documents said.
According to the complaint, Cabela’s, which operates a store at the Christiana Mall in northern Delaware, “knew or should have known that a straw purchase was underway,” but did nothing to stop the sale or alert law enforcement, as required by law.
“Hardwick and Kuligowski could not have succeeded in obtaining a firearm but for the negligent and illegal conduct of the Christiana Mall Cabela’s,” attorneys for the family said in a 28-page filing.
Cabela’s and its parent Bass Pro Group did not respond Wednesday to calls seeking comment on the lawsuit.
According to the complaint, Abdullah Brown and Deonta Carney, both 16, used the same weapon in a drive-by shooting around the corner from Anderson’s home in September 2016. Anderson, the mother of a 6-month old boy, was struck multiple times in the crossfire and later died of her injuries.
The News Journal reported earlier this year that a murder trial for Brown and Carney ended in a mistrial, after a juror failed to report for the second day of deliberations. Kuligowski was sentenced to 27 months for possessing a firearm while prohibited, the paper reported.
Wednesday’s filing cited federal laws barring the sale of guns and ammunition to straw purchasers and requiring dealers to maintain accurate records of firearm transactions. It also cited Delaware statute, which makes it a crime to knowingly make false statements in connection with gun sales.
Attorneys for the family characterized the July 2018 transaction as a “blatant straw purchase,” saying that Hardwick behaved erratically in the store and remained in regular cellphone contact with Kuligowski, who waited in a car outside. According to the complaint, Hardwick provided a false address and incorrectly listed herself as the buyer.
“Cabela’s did not comply with its legal obligations to determine whether Hardwick was a straw purchaser, or was otherwise unqualified to possess or buy a firearm,” the complaint said.
The filing also noted Cabela’s “history of catering to traffickers and straw purchases,” both in Delaware and on a national scale.
According to the complaint, guns sold to straw purchasers at the company’s Christiana Mall store have been used in at least three other shootings in Wilmington since May of last year. Attorneys also cited a report from the city of Chicago, which found that Cabela’s was the fourth-largest dealer of “crime guns” in the city between 2013 and 2016. And a gun purchased at Cabela’s was used by the Tsarnaev brothers in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing to kill a police officer and wage a shootout with police.
Anderson’s family, which includes her young son and parents, are represented by Ben T. Castle and Bruce L. Hudson of Hudson & Castle Law in Wilmington. Jonathan Lowy, vice president of litigation at the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, is acting as co-lead counsel for the plaintiffs.
“Far too many young men and women are falling victim to gun violence in Wilmington, and it was an absolute tragedy that KeKe Anderson is among them,” Castle said in a statement.
“To look only to those who pulled the trigger is to miss the point. This is a much more deeply rooted issue in our community, and we have to take steps to be sure from the start that guns are not landing in the hands of dangerous people any longer.”
The case is captioned Summers v. Cabela’s.