A homeless man is suing the owner of a West End hotel, asserting he was shot after trying to sneak a free breakfast in 2016.
An attorney representing William Keller filed suit against Willis Gandhi and Balaji Hospitality, doing business as Holiday Inn Express, late Thursday in the 405th District Court, asserting Gandhi shot Keller through the chest and shoulder after asking him to leave.
“Mr. Gandhi, rightfully, demanded that he leave,” the complaint asserts. “Plaintiff peacefully agreed, but told Mr. Gandhi that he had left his backpack in the conference room and he would just take it and go. Mr. Gandhi blocked the entrance to the conference room, preventing plaintiff from getting his backpack (containing most of his worldly belongings) and told him to leave immediately.”
Gandhi, however, contends Keller acted aggressively, putting him in fear for his safety, his attorney said.
Scott Arnold, attorney for the plaintiff, said Keller just wanted wanted to leave peacefully, but Gandhi pulled a gun and shot him.
But Thursday’s filing doesn’t tell the whole story, said David Walker, an attorney who represented Gandhi in the criminal case resulting from the incident.
“This is one of the few cases where everything but the shooting itself was on security camera,” Walker said. “It shows who the aggressor was. Willis exhibited a lot of self-restraint. He felt the guy was going to bash his head in with a hammer.”
Gandhi was not arrested at the scene, but a grand jury later indicted him on one count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, Walker said.
“The police were as surprised as Willis was when the grand jury indicted him,” Walker said.
The case was later dismissed because Gandhi acted in self-defense, Walker said.
Court filings said the criminal case was dismissed “in the interest of justice.”
Thursday’s civil filing makes no mention of a hammer, describing Keller as unarmed.
Keller took his backpack off and placed it in a nearby conference room to seem less homeless and then went to get breakfast at the Holiday Inn Express in the 8600 block of Seawall Boulevard, the complaint asserts.
Gandhi then confronted Keller and blocked him from getting his backpack, the lawsuit asserts.
Keller went through another door, grabbed his backpack and was leaving the hotel when Gandhi and two other employees chased him and grabbed one strap of his backpack, the lawsuit asserts.
“Suddenly, without warning, defendant Gandhi dropped the backpack, unholstered a handgun he was carrying and shot plaintiff through the chest and shoulder, causing very severe, permanent injuries,” the lawsuit asserts.
Walker on Friday disagreed with the lawsuit’s claims.
“Willis is just a nice guy,” Walker said. “He told me there were instances of homeless people sleeping outside the hotel and he’d invite them in and have something for them to eat. That’s the sort of person he is.”
Gandhi had no interest in keeping the backpack and just wanted Keller to leave, Walker said.
Keller, meanwhile, argues he was unarmed and just wanted to leave, Arnold said.
Keller was transported to the University of Texas Medical Branch after the shooting and spent many days recovering from injuries, the lawsuit asserts.
Keller isn’t sure specifically how much he’ll seek in damages, but it will be a significant number, Arnold said.