Security footage shows the clutter inside a Jacksonville Dollar General obstructed the store’s exits and aisles as a shooter entered and killed three people. [Screenshots from Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office video]

Snippets of security-camera footage from a Dollar General in Jacksonville’s Urban Core reveal more than just the chilling moments of a racist violent attack: they expose a maze of obstacles — metal carts, towering containers, and cluttered product piles — potentially hindering escape routes inside the store. Now, an investigation by the U.S. government’s workplace-safety watchdog should determine if corporate negligence hampered responses to the deadly shooting.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened a fatality-and-catastrophe probe of the Dollar General at 2161 Kings Road in Jacksonville on Aug. 26, according to OSHA disclosures reviewed by The Tributary.

Earlier that day, police said, a white 21-year-old used a swastika-painted rifle to target Jacksonville’s historic Black neighborhood of New Town, killing 52-year-old Angela Carr, 29-year-old Jerrald Gallion and 19-year-old A.J. Laguerre Jr. at the Dollar General.

It’s standard for OSHA to investigate deaths of U.S. employees that it deems “work-related.” But the agency has expanded the scope of its Jacksonville case to a “complete” probe of the Dollar General’s safety conditions, according to publicly disclosed case data. That opens more room for scrutiny and potential penalties than most shooting-death investigations under OSHA’s federal rules, the vast majority of which have been limited in recent years to a “partial” scope that doesn’t take account of the broader workplace.

In a statement to The Tributary, Dollar General declined to comment on its operations “other than to say we do not believe there is any connection between store conditions and the tragic events of August 26.” Representatives from OSHA didn’t respond to inquiries from The Tributary.

Dollar General announced a few days after the shooting that it “plans to reopen a fully remodeled store” in New Town by early October, though it hasn’t said why or what the remodel will entail. The company also said it would donate up to $1 million to its Employee Assistance Foundation and $500,000 to the First Coast Relief Fund. It pledged another $1 million to local nonprofits but didn’t say when it would donate that amount or who would receive the donations.

The chaotic state of the store, as depicted in the footage, could factor into OSHA’s probe based on laws against blocked exits and congested walkways — a problem that OSHA has cited frequently enough at Dollar General stores nationwide to designate the bargain-retail chain a “severe violator” since 2022.

Nick Nichols, an occupational safety professor at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, said a flurry of citations have hit Dollar General stores nationwide since last year for “blocking fire exits” and “stacking boxes too high.” That aligns with “horror stories” he said he’s heard from students who worked for the company. He said Dollar General was the first retail store he’d ever heard of getting OSHA’s severe-violator label.

“Most of the severe violators are definitely construction companies,” Nichols told The Tributary. The fact Dollar General, as a retailer, was listed as one of the worst violators sends a message that its “corporate culture regarding safety needs work.”

Security cams show clogged escape routes

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office released two brief videos to demonstrate a 45-minute timeline of the steps leading up to the shooting on Kings Road.

The shooter killed himself inside the store as police arrived, roughly 11 minutes after he began the shooting in the parking lot, according to investigators. Police said he fired 11 shots at Carr as she sat in her vehicle, then entered the store and shot Laguerre — a Dollar General employee who was working at the time — before chasing other people who escaped out the back. He returned to the main shopping area, shot Gallion, and chased another woman whom he shot at but missed before she escaped, officials say.

JSO didn’t respond to questions about the clutter throughout the store and the potential that it interfered with people escaping or officers responding.

When the shooter entered the Dollar General, a stack of Gatorade pallets and a security scanner sat to his right, and another product display stood in front of him, leaving little gap for potential escape.

In contrast, when the shooter first entered a Family Dollar a mile down the road earlier in the day, the entrance was unobstructed, footage showed. He then walked out of the store peacefully for reasons that remain unclear.

Before coming to Dollar General, the shooter stopped at a Family Dollar where the entrance was unobstructed. [Screenshot from Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office video]

A second montage of footage, released by JSO two days after the shooting, showed a law-enforcement team raiding the Dollar General from a separate entry at the loading-dock area of the store. Directly in front of the door as they entered was a metal cart stacked with large bins as tall as the men themselves, prompting each officer to maneuver their rifles around both sides of the cart before proceeding into the store.

The footage then showed one officer navigating an already-narrow hallway in the store where two metal carts stacked with boxes and inventory made the walkway even tighter.

The final shot of the second montage showed three officers at the check-out desk of the store, which was stuffed with random items and a magazine stand taller than any of the officers’ eye-level view.

The montage concluded seconds later, when all three officers turned and rushed from a room to their right to take cover behind the check-out desk. Jacksonville Sheriff T.K. Waters said this was when the shooter killed himself.

‘Danger Vu’

Nichols, the workplace safety professor, said he has taught classes on the specific topic of keeping workplaces ready for active-shooter crises like the one in Jacksonville.

When first shown screenshots from the video of officers entering the Dollar General, Nichols didn’t realize what he was looking at. He thought it was an image of workers who had just begun unloading cargo that would soon be out of the way.

“What I’m seeing here is a lot of clutter that a lot of employees are having to deal with,” he told The Tributary. “On the positive side, maybe it could provide cover in a workplace-shooting situation for the officers, but on a negative side, it could pin a victim into a situation that they couldn’t get out of.”

Employers regulated by OSHA are required to report worker deaths within eight hours. An inspector is sent to the site of said death, then shares their findings with the OSHA area director they answer to — in this case, Jacksonville Area Director Scott Tisdale. The director then decides the scope of the investigation, which OSHA has six months to close with citations.

The difference between OSHA marking its case with a “complete” scope instead of “partial” is substantial, according to Nichols. The decision is “usually at the will of the inspector” who visits the death site.

“They’re gonna be hyper focused on the fatality when they get into, say, XYZ factory,” he said. “But say the inspector sees or hears something that is over in the paint booth, or whatever, and that leads them to, ‘Well this doesn’t look good either. We’re just gonna start at the beginning.’ They can make a whole comprehensive inspection out of it.”

Dollar General has gained an infamous reputation with OSHA in the last few years, Nichols pointed out.

OSHA has levied more than $21 million of fines against Dollar General for hundreds of workplace-safety violations since 2017. Nearly half of that dollar total — around $11 million — covers penalties in the last 10 months alone, according to government disclosures reviewed by The Tributary.

Dollar General had contested most, if not all, of the cases against it that remained open at the time of publication.

Last year, OSHA responded to the whopping build-up of penalties by adding Dollar General to its Severe Violator Enforcement Program, an ominous designation the agency uses to crackdown on “recalcitrant employers who demonstrate indifference to the health and safety of their employees” in chronic frequency. It has used terms like “Danger Vu” in increasingly-frustrated statements as violations have continued mounting on Dollar General’s record.

Yet, federal data shows OSHA hasn’t cited those violations at any of the 46 stores Dollar General’s website lists as operating in Jacksonville.

That may be because separate from the recent shooting, only one Dollar General in Jacksonville has faced any kind of inspection that could prompt such a penalty in the last decade.

The store at 10230 Atlantic Boulevard, midway between downtown  and the Beaches, has faced two inspections in recent years, both prompted by employee complaints: one in September 2022, which OSHA limited to a “partial” scope and closed with no action; and a second in March, which remains open, with OSHA applying its more-expansive “complete” scope.

OSHA’s Jacksonville office logged eight other inspections at a Dollar General in the last decade, all outside of Duval County. It levied nearly $259,000 of fines based on four violations at a Holmes County store in 2016 and two at a pair of Clay County stores last year.

Nichols said enforcement varies region to region. The Tampa-area office appears to be cracking down far harder than its northeast counterpart. It cited 20 violations for about $1.8 million of fines against Dollar General stores in just a 13-month period between April 2022 and May this year.

Despite the lack of OSHA investigations at Jacksonville stores, that hasn’t stopped Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department from dinging the stores at least 20 times in the last decade for violating the state’s fire prevention code. Since January, lawyers have filed at least 14 lawsuits against Dollar General stores in Duval County, alleging the stores were unsafe.

A hefty share of Dollar General’s violations across the U.S. stem from cluttered objects creating a risk that people will be trapped if they need to escape.

“Far too often, our inspections at Dollar General stores find exits and pathways blocked by boxes of merchandise, rolling carts and other materials,” OSHA’s Austin, Texas, Area Director Monica Munoz stated in late July. “The company must take immediate action to correct hazards that can prevent workers from exiting quickly during an emergency.”

Florida is a hotspot of the alleged hazards.

OSHA cited more than $3.5 million of penalties against Dollar General in Florida over a 15-month period up to last July.

“At this point, we can only conclude that they choose to continue exposing their employees to hazardous conditions,” Danelle Jindra, OSHA’s Tampa Area Director, said in a statement on the July citations. “Dollar General must make changes to correct these recurring violations before a worker is needlessly injured or worse.”

Charlie McGee covers poverty and the safety net for The Tributary. He’s also a Report for America corps member with The GroundTruth Project, an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization dedicated to supporting the next generation of journalists in the U.S. and worldwide. McGee may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @bycharliemcgee.

Update: This story was updated to include a statement that Dollar General provided after publication.

Charlie McGee reports on poverty in Jacksonville. He is a Report for America corps member who previously wrote for the regional paper in California’s High Desert. He has written for outlets including...