A man who was wounded during a shooting at a suburban San Diego synagogue in April is suing the house of worship, alleging that Chabad of Poway did not use federal funds meant to hire security to protect its congregants.
In the 12-page lawsuit filed Friday in Los Angeles County Superior Court, Almog Peretz says that the synagogue did not have proper security despite a rise in anti-Semitic attacks nationally and that it did not use a $150,000 grant to upgrade security measures.
Officials at Chabad of Poway said in a statement that the allegations “are simply not true.”
“To imply that the grant funds could have been used for security guards is misleading,” the statement said. “While we were approved to move forward with the federal grant application shortly before the attack, it’s a process that can take many months, even years, before the funding comes through. The grant we were approved for did not cover security guards.”
Prosecutors have charged John Timothy Earnest with one count of murder and three counts of attempted murder in the April 27 attack.
According to court documents, Earnest — 19 at the time — walked into the synagogue on the last day of Passover, the holiest of Jewish holidays, and opened fire. Surveillance video of the lobby of the Chabad shows a man firing an assault-style rifle from just outside the front door, hitting Lori Gilbert-Kaye, 60, as she turned to run. She died at the doors to the sanctuary after being shot twice, according to a San Diego County deputy medical examiner.
Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein was the next person shot. Goldstein was wounded in both hands and lost the index finger on his right hand in the shooting.
San Diego County Deputy Dist. Atty. Leonard Trinh said Earnest then turned toward a room where several people, including children, were inside and fired his weapon. Among those in the room were Almog Peretz, 34, who was shot in the leg, and his 8-year-old niece, Noya Dahan, who was struck in her face and leg by bullet fragments.
When Peretz saw the gunman, he grabbed his niece in one arm, a 4-year-old girl in the other and ran outside toward a playground filled with children. But when he noticed another of his nieces wasn’t with him, he ran back into the building. That’s when he noticed the blood on his pants and realized he had been shot.
In filing the lawsuit, Peretz said the synagogue breached its “duty of reasonable care” in protecting congregants.
Chabad of Poway received $150,000 from the government in March because the synagogue “believed that it was at risk of an anti-Semitic attack on its congregants,” according to the suit. But on the day of the attack, court documents show, the building’s doors were unlocked and no guards, gates or other security measures were in place.
The lawsuit references a 2014 ruling in which the California branch of the Hasidic Jewish movement Chabad-Lubavitch was found to have misused federal funds meant for security upgrades and was forced to pay $844,985 to the government in damages and returned funds.
In addition to Chabad of Poway, the suit names Chabad of California and Chabad International as well as Earnest and San Diego Guns, the store that sold the teen the rifle used in the attack.
“As this is now a litigated matter, we are unfortunately unable to comment further, but hope to provide more information as it becomes available,” the statement from Chabad of Poway said. “Our focus remains on the healing of, and support for, our community.”
Peretz’s attorney, Yoni Weinberg, said his client may be perceived negatively for including the synagogue in the lawsuit, but he said it’s important to name everyone who may be at fault in the fatal attack.
“If we were only to have John Earnest in the lawsuit, changes would never get made,” Weinberg said. “Hopefully this pressure … influences them to make a change to protect their congregants and it influences other synagogues as well.”