After a bitter legal struggle in which the government argued it was not responsible for failing to update the national weapons background check system, the Justice Department has struck a $144.5 million settlement with the relatives of the 26 victims murdered in a 2017 mass shooting at a Texas church.
The agreement, which was negotiated with lawyers representing the families of victims and survivors who had gathered for Sunday worship at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, outside of San Antonio, has been approved by Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who is in charge of the civil division.
The government recently provided $127.5 million
The settlement, which exceeds past ones the department struck over mass shootings, is one of the largest of its kind because it addresses the government’s failure to prevent mass shootings by sharing intelligence and other information that might have been used to stop them.
The government recently provided $127.5 million to the families of those murdered or hurt in the Charleston, South Carolina, church massacre in 2015, and $88 million to the victims of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting in 2018.
Judge Xavier Rodriguez of the Federal District Court in San Antonio determined in February 2022 that Air Force officials had neglected to provide essential records that would have prevented the suspect in the Sutherland Springs shooting from obtaining the semiautomatic rifle he used in the attack from a licensed gun dealer. These records showed a military court’s judgment of domestic abuse.
But despite months of talks, no agreement was reached. The government withdrew from negotiations and appealed the ruling late last year after an attempt at mediation with attorneys for the families of those murdered and hurt in the incident. You might read in Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton Sues President Biden.
That infuriated the families, their attorneys, and gun control organizations, who saw the case as a crucial test of the Biden administration’s dedication to addressing the obligation of the government to keep firearms out of the hands of mass killers.
The Justice Department took the rare action of appealing Judge Rodriguez’s $230 million judgment to the families in January. There was “no dispute that U.S. Air Force personnel failed to transmit to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System” crucial information about the assassin, Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, who opened fire at First Baptist Church, according to Brian M. Boynton, head of the civil division at the time.
“The Sutherland Springs families are heroes,” Jamal K. Alsaffar, the lead lawyer for the families, said on Wednesday. “They have gone through so much pain and loss in the most horrific way. But despite that, these families fought for justice, endured and won two trials against the federal government.”
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More than 75 plaintiffs’ claims will be resolved by these agreements, according to a department spokesperson. The judge must yet approve the agreement, but both parties anticipate that he will do so.
“No words or amount of money can diminish the immense tragedy of the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs,” Ms. Gupta said. “Today’s announcement brings the litigation to a close, ending a painful chapter for the victims of this unthinkable crime.”
Until he was court-martialed in 2012 on allegations of beating his wife and child, Mr. Kelley, who passed away as a result of the attack, worked at an Air Force post in New Mexico. He was given a 12-month prison term and a “bad conduct” discharge, both of which should have made it illegal for him to purchase a gun or ammunition under federal law. This is interesting to read the Texas Abandon Effort To Punish Harris County.
Then, the Air Force admitted that staff members had neglected to add the conviction to the federal database used for conducting criminal background checks. Judge Rodriguez awarded the victims damages for their “pain and suffering, mental anguish, deformity, handicap, and loss of companionship.”