WOOSTER, OHIO — The family of a 21-year-old Orrville man murdered in 2016 is suing outdoors retailer Cabela’s for negligence and wrongful death, arguing that the store should not have sold the weapon used to kill him to a man with a violent criminal history.
The estate of Bryan Galliher — through Columbus-based law firm Cooper & Elliott and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence — filed the lawsuit Tuesday morning in the Wayne County Court of Common Pleas.
In the complaint, attorneys argued Cabela’s, and its parent company, Bass Pro Group LLC, violated state law by selling a “black powder gun” — a replica of an antique firearm made from modern materials — to Paul R. Claren, the Orrville man who killed Galliher using the gun in August 2016.
A Wayne County jury convicted Claren, now 69, of aggravated murder and having weapons while on disability in August 2017. Claren is serving a life sentence without parole in the Richland Correctional Institution. Claren’s criminal history in Cuyahoga and Summit counties includes a 2001 conviction for felonious assault in Summit County.
The lawsuit alleges that Cabela’s knew, or should have known, about Claren’s violent past, and therefore should not have sold him the black powder revolver.
“Cabela’s and its employees knew and/or should have known firearms law in Ohio, the state in which it was operating, including the law that prohibited Cabela’s from selling a black powder firearm to Claren,” the complaint states.
The lawsuit alleges that Claren purchased an 1858 Army .44-caliber black powder revolver from Cabela’s over the phone in December 2014. In July 2016, Cabela’s also sold Claren a black powder loading kit that he used to load the revolver, the lawsuit states.
Galliher’s family, namely his mother Gerri and sister Alissa, are seeking “damages and other proper relief resulting from Cabela’s and/or Bass Pro Group’s illegal, negligent, and reckless sale of a firearm to Paul Claren,” according to the complaint. The lawsuit does not specify how much money the plaintiffs are seeking, but the compensatory damages requested will exceed $25,000, according to the complaint. The family is also seeking punitive damages against Claren and the companies.
Bass Pro Group, LLC did not return requests for comment.
In a Tuesday news release from the Brady Center, an attorney for the Washington, D.C.-based organization that advocates for gun control and against gun violence, said gun dealers like Cabela’s need to follow state laws regarding firearm sales to convicted criminals.
“We should all be able to agree that gun dealers should be careful to keep deadly weapons from criminals, and they certainly should know and follow all state laws,” said Jonathan Lowy, the Brady Center’s vice president of litigation and co-counsel for the plaintiffs in this case.“Bryan Galliher’s family is bringing this case because he would be alive today if a store did not sell a dangerous firearm to a dangerous man.”
Orrville police officers arrested Claren on Aug. 8, 2016 at the Lamplight Apartments on North Ella Street, where Galliher and Claren were neighbors. Galliher died from a gunshot wound that penetrated his liver, heart and aorta, and was removed from his spinal cord, according to the Stark County Coroner’s Office.
At a seven-day jury trial in the Wayne County Court of Common Please in August 2017, Claren’s defense attorney Lee Winchell argued the shooting was self-defense. Prosecuting attorney Michael Rickett, now a Wayne County Municipal Court judge, argued the shooting was planned.
Harry Campbell, a police officer and chief investigator for the Stark County Coroner’s Office, testified during the trial that under federal firearms regulations, anyone could purchase the type of pistol Claren used without going through an FBI background check. He added Ohio law is more restrictive when it comes to convicted felons.
Claren has court cases dating back to 1991 in Cuyahoga and Summit counties including charges for aggravated assault, menacing by stalking and felonious assault.
In 1991, he broke the arm of the Broadview Heights mayor following a minor traffic stop. He was also accused of strangling a patient while working at a psychiatric hospital. He was ultimately acquitted of those charges but fired from his job.
Following that case, Claren shot out the windows of the homes of the hospital’s CEO and prosecuting attorney, targeting the rooms of their children. While in jail for those charges, he threatened to kill the judge that presided over the case.
Attorneys in the lawsuit filed Tuesday have demanded a jury trial, though no hearings have been scheduled yet.
Cabela’s has more than 80 retail locations across the U.S. and Canada, including four in Ohio — Columbus, Avon, Centerville and West Chester.