Lawsuit claims Uptown Dallas location known as hot spot for crimes

DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – A local actor who suffered brain damage from an attack in a Target parking lot is suing the retailer for not preventing the assault.

According to the lawsuit, the two teenage assailants left Derek Whitener, artistic and education director of The Firehouse Theater in Farmers Branch with several medical challenges. He has trouble using his right hand to perform high-level motor tasks, has impaired mental function, difficulty with speech and other problems.

Firehouse Theatre artistic director Derek Whitener struggles to recover at Baylor Hospital. (Courtesy of FirehouseTheatre)

“Derek’s life has been forever changed because of this preventable attack,” said Mr. Whitener’s attorney, Chris Hamilton of Dallas law firm Standly Hamilton, LLP. “His injuries are similar to a stroke victim. He faces a long road to recovery, including extensive medical care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and counseling.”

Whitener stopped at the Target in Dallas’ Uptown section on Jan. 14, 2017, to pick up some groceries. As he walked through the Target parking lot, he was approached by two men, one carrying a wooden rod. Another Target customer also reported seeing the men.

Once inside the store, Whitener told the store’s head of security and other employees what happened. They told him he did not need to call police, promising they would handle the situation. Store security asked the would-be assailants to leave and later assured Whitener it was safe for him to exit the store and walk to his car.

But as he left the store unaccompanied by security, the two men reappeared, one wearing a gorilla mask. According to the lawsuit, they viciously beat Whitener with the rod saying, “We heard you were afraid of us. We will give you something to fear.”

Derek Whitener, a local theater director who was brutally attacked outside an Uptown Target store, left the hospital. (Family video)

Whitener suffered a fractured skull and brain injury that required surgery and an extended stay in the hospital.

The lawsuit cites crime statistics for the Uptown Target location, which show that in the three years leading up to the attack, police responded to 223 calls there, for robbery, theft, car burglary and other crimes. Police also responded to at least 94 calls of major violent disturbances during the same reporting period.

In the last year, Dallas police reported at least 32 major violent disturbances, six emergency disturbances and six major disturbances requiring an ambulance at the store.

Dallas police arrested an unidentified juvenile and 17-year-old Zantrell Sauls in connection with the attack. Sauls is charged with aggravated assault, a second-degree felony.

Zantrell Sauls (credit: Dallas County Sheriff’s Office)