A U.S. District Judge has sent a state case against Cabela’s involving ammunition theft, back to Delaware courts. Photo by Pixabay/Pexels.
A U.S. District Court judge has told Cabela’s it has no grounds to have a stolen ammunition lawsuit tried in federal court and sent it back to state courts.
The suit began with Cabel’s refusal to answer a subpeona and provide information to the Delaware Department of Justice, which is investigating the theft of ammunition said to have ended up in criminal hands.
The case drew a huge amount of attention when it was revealed in court records in July 2023.
Danielle Brookens, 38, was arrested in the process of stealing ammunition. She told police she had been doing it for a year and stole as much as 500,000 rounds of ammo.
She then sold it at one-third of the cost to others, including drug dealers and violent criminals in Delaware and Philadelphia. Brookens, who had a history of substance abuse, was sentenced to a treatment program.
The state said that the Cabela’s
at Christiana Mall had stacks of ammunition in the middle of the sales floor, and that violated rules about ammunition needing to be stored out of customer control.
Cabela’s would not cooperate with the Department of Justice investigation and when sued tried to move the case from state to federal court, relying on federal rights.
Judge Richard G. Andrews of the District Court for the District of Delaware said Cabela’s lawyers “do not describe any issue of federal law” that the state “must win to prove any element necessary to the enforcement of the subpoena.”
Andrews awarded legal fees to the Department of Justice, adding emphasis to the ruling, saying none of those appealing to the higher court met the legal test that courts use to determine federal jurisdiction.
“It should have been obvious,” Andrews said. “There is no qualified civil liability action … There was no basis to remove the case.”
The state case essentially argued that Cabela’s itself contributed to the thefts through its hands-off approach to the shoplifting.
Cabela’s legal moves
After the DOJ sent Cabela’s a subpoena, the company relocated ammunition in the Christiana store to behind a sales counter. The company would not produce any meaningful answers to the state’s questions, and instead tried to move the case to delay and ultimately block the investigation, according to a Department of Justice press release.
“I’m grateful to the Court for its ruling and glad that Cabela’s legal games continue to be unsuccessful,” said Attorney General Jennings in the press release. “Almost a year into this investigation, Cabela’s is still evading basic questions and trying to hide the truth.”
Every round of ammunition that walked out of the store is capable of ending a life, she said,
“Cabela’s apparently casual attitude about that fact raises serious questions about just how pervasive their issues were.” she said. “Gun dealers need to take reasonable steps to prevent gun violence — we are still waiting for evidence that Cabela’s did. We’re looking forward to stating our case in Superior Court.”
The Department of Justice’s investigation explores potential violations of several laws, including the Keshall “KeKe” Anderson Safe Firearms Sales Act. The Act, passed into law in 2022, is named for KeKe Anderson, an innocent bystander who was killed in a 2016 shooting involving a firearm bought through a straw purchase at Cabela’s.
The bill repeals special immunity granted to gun dealers like Cabela’s under state law, making Delaware the first state in the country to repeal a gun industry liability shield.
A recent ATF report lists Newark, where Cabela’s is located, as the leading source city by far for crime guns recovered in Delaware, the press release said.
From 2017-2021, more than 40% of crime gun tracebacks — over 1,000 guns in all — returned to gun dealers located in Newark. As of December 2021, only 17 of Delaware’s 152 gun dealer licenses, two of which belong to Cabela’s, were located in Newark.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience.