SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — An upscale shopping center in the heart of Salt Lake City is suing a Utah man charged with plotting a mass shooting at the mall, claiming his threats brought bad publicity and led workers and shoppers to fear for their safety.
Prosecutors say Jack Harry Stiles, 42, planned to randomly shoot people at the City Creek Center this week, the anniversary of his mother’s death. In addition, they say he planned to open fire at a movie theater and wire a bomb underneath a bus.
According to a lawsuit filed Wednesday, and first reported by KUTV, attorneys for City Creek said that “a significant amount of negative media attention has been drawn” to the center because of the case, and it has left visitors, tenants and employees worried about their safety and security. The filing came just two days after Stiles’ arrest.
The shopping center is seeking a permanent court order barring Stiles from coming within 4,000 feet of the mall and at least $300,000 in damages, with the full amount to be determined in court.
City Creek is a $1.7 billion shopping center built by the business arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Opened in 2012, it spans two city blocks across the street from the Mormon temple and features a retractable roof and a creek running through the property.
Messages left with Stiles’ attorney were not immediately returned Friday. He made his first appearance in court Thursday. He is jailed on $1 million bail and has not yet entered a plea to the terrorism threat charges he faces.
Stiles filed paperwork Thursday saying he can’t pay for his own attorney. In the declaration of indigency, Stiles says he makes $710 a month and has one dependent.
Mass shooting victims have sued the owners, operators and on-site security of malls, movie theaters and schools where attacks have occurred in recent years, but it’s unclear if there are any cases where a property such as a mall or theater has filed a lawsuits against a shooter or person who plotted a shooting.
Wayne McCormack, a University of Utah law professor with more than four decades of experience, said he’s never heard of a lawsuit like this. He said he didn’t think the mall’s claims had much merit considering Stiles didn’t make any public statements about his plan.
“As far as we can tell, all that this guy has done is talk. And he’s talking to a crisis workers in a hospital,” McCormack said. “It just doesn’t make any sense to me. I don’t what they are suing for?”
Police learned in mid-August that Stiles was planning to “randomly shoot and kill people” at the City Creek Center after they were tipped off by a hospital crisis worker, according to court documents.
After hearing about Stiles’ alleged plan on Aug. 12, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said authorities began looking into Stiles’ background and discovered that he had a history of mental illness and making threats.
Gill said Stiles become fixated on the locations in his plan, mapping them out and visiting them over and over again. Charging documents show Stiles had “scoped and mapped out the best spots” for hiding to “kill the most amount of people.”
Court records show he didn’t have any weapons but state he was planning to buy two guns with silencers and stock up on ammunition.
Gill said he took the threat seriously in the aftermath of the Sept. 16 shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, where 12 people were gunned down.
In court documents, City Creek general manager Linda Wardell said her office has received calls and emails from fearful employees and shoppers. She also said she saw a local television news interview with a mall shopper who said she would leave the mall immediately after hearing of the alleged plot.
Wardell believes the reports have caused “irreparable harm” to the business, and said the case is particularly alarming for the mall in the run-up to the busy holiday shopping season.
Among the court documents filed by City Creek is a flier put out on Aug. 13 by West Valley City about the threats Stiles had made to a crisis worker. The flier reveals that Stiles told police that 10 years ago he went to a San Diego restaurant with a hunting knife and threatened to kill people. Stiles said San Diego police put him in a psych ward, but charges were never filed.
Neither West Valley City police or Gill were immediately available to answer questions about the flier, including if Stiles was in jail since Aug. 12 as investigators looked into the validity of the threats.
In a statement released Friday, City Creek said the safety of its shoppers and employees is the top priority, but said the center does not discuss security procedures publically or comment on legal matters.
Associated Press writer Brady McCombs contributed to this report.