By Michelle Leigh Smith
The family of a workplace shooting victim in Missouri City has filed a $25 million lawsuit against Ben E. Keith Company, claiming the company failed to provide adequate security despite previous threats of workplace violence.
Francisco Joel Reyes, 31, was shot to death early on the morning of Aug. 20 at the company’s Missouri City facility. Reyes was killed when Kristine Peralez, 29, drove through an open gate and walked into the warehouse with a loaded semi-automatic handgun. After entering the property, Peralez began firing, killing Reyes with multiple gunshot wounds and wounding another co-worker, Fredencio Janas in the leg. Next, she walked outside the building and was engaged by Missouri City police officer Valery Elias. Gunfire was exchanged and Peralez was shot in the chest. She was taken to Memorial Hermann and pronounced dead soon thereafter.
The family of Reyes called Benny Agosto Jr., a leader in the Hispanic community and founder of the Mexican American Bar Association.
In a press release issued on Wednesday, Agosto alleges that Ben E. Keith had employed a security company in response to threats of workplace violence until a month before the shooting. The suit alleges that “this tragic and preventable shooting” was the result.
Michele Pena, as the representative of the estate of her late husband and mother of their three children, and Maria Louisa Reyes Ortega, the mother of Francisco Reyes, brought the suit against the food company and the estate of Peralez.
“Our investigation so far has revealed that Ben E. Keith Company failed to provide adequate security on the premises,” said Agosto, a partner at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz. “The duty to make the property safe for their employees and invitees was reasonable and necessary, but unfortunately it was ignored.
“Our investigation so far has led us to the fact that there had been prior threats of violence at the workplace,” Agosto said. “Those earlier threats were not from the shooter. It had nothing to do with the folks involved. The prior threats did have something to do with another coworker. As soon as we get the discovery process in place, we will have sworn testimony to prove up the facts.
“There is no doubt that the defendant, BEK, has now began the process of hiring security once again at the premises. It is unexplainable why they had dropped the security on the premises given the multiple threats of violence at the workplace.
“Possible motives by the shooter are still uncertain,” Agosto said. “However, we have discovered that there was some kind of dispute within the company as a result of some demotion that her husband had received. Her husband was also a coworker and was working that night on the premises. We intend to investigate and get to the bottom of all these facts, as we begin the formal discovery process.”
Craig Woodcock, general counsel for Ben E. Keith Company, did not respond to requests for comment. The company broke ground on its 450,000-square-foot complex in Missouri City in 2011 and now employs 418 persons.