DOJ Agrees to $144 Million Settlement Over Background Check Failures That Let the Sutherland Springs Killer Buy His Guns

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Law enforcement officials investigate a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017. (NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN via AP)

By Paul J. Weber, AP

The Justice Department announced Wednesday a tentative $144 million settlement with families and victims of a 2017 mass shooting at a Texas church that was carried out by a former U.S. airman who was able to purchase firearms despite a criminal history.

More than two dozen people were killed when Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire during a Sunday service at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs. Authorities put the official death toll at 26 because one of the 25 people killed was pregnant in what remains the deadliest mass shooting in Texas history.

Kelley had served nearly five years in the Air Force before being discharged in 2014 for bad conduct, after he was convicted of assaulting a former wife and stepson, cracking the child’s skull. The Air Force has publicly acknowledged that the felony conviction for domestic violence — had it been put into the FBI database — could have prevented Kelley from buying guns from licensed firearms dealer.

U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez had previously ruled that the Air Force was “60% liable” for the attack because it failed to submit Kelley’s assault conviction during his time in the Air Force to a national database. He ruled that Kelley was at fault for the rest.

The Justice Department said the settlement is still subject to court approvals.

The sun sets behind 26 crosses placed in a field before a vigil for the victims of the First Baptist Church shooting Monday, Nov. 6, 2017, in Sutherland Springs, Texas.  (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

“No words or amount of money can diminish the immense tragedy of the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs,” said Vanita Gupta, associate attorney general for the Justice Department, in a statement. “Today’s announcement brings the litigation to a close, ending a painful chapter for the victims of this unthinkable crime.”

A lawyer representing the Sutherland Springs victims did not immediately return messages seeking comment. Federal court records filed Wednesday in Texas show that attorneys for the victims told the judge they had reached a settlement.

The settlement would end a long-running lawsuit that was filed in 2018. When lawsuits are filed against federal agencies or programs, they are defended by attorneys with the Justice Department, which has separate divisions for criminal prosecutions and other responsibilities.

The settlement is less than the $230 million that Rodriguez had ordered the government to pay families and the victims last year, but the Justice Department appealed that ruling.

Rodriguez said in 2021 that had the government done its job and entered Kelley’s history into the database, “it is more likely than not that Kelley would have been deterred from carrying out the Church shooting.”

Kelley was able to purchase four firearms after being discharged in 2014, three of which he carried into the church. After the shooting, the Air Force was blamed for not reporting his record to the FBI. The conviction would have been a red flag in the mandatory background check when Kelley tried to purchase a firearm.

Kelley died of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound after he was shot and chased by two men who heard the gunfire at the church.

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  1. Background checks for 2A related purchases are unconstitutional. Government should end this tyrannical practical so the taxpayer stops getting fleeced via these lawsuits and subsequent settlements.

    • So…taxpayer dollars will be funding this settlement, it appears. The Government passes an unconstitutional process, screws up that process, and now will be using our tax dollars to pay the victims of their screw-up.

      Sounds legit. /sarc

    • Yes, but this was not an issue with NICS it was a double failure by the military to report the incidents ti NICS.
      NICS is only as accurate as the data it holds. No data can;t be accurate. It was the USAF that failed to forward the data in the TWO disabling data points that WOULD have kept this dirtbag from purchasing the tools he used to kill.

      • I wonder if this will open up more suits. Cho at Virginia Tech should have been prohibited. Cruz, at Parkland, probably should have been as well. The guy at Publix in New York had the cops called on him the year before for threatening to shoot up his school. I wondered why that didn’t trigger NY red flag law. So maybe that opens NY up to liability.

        Will be interesting to see where this goes. The left will probably use it to push for more background checks and more record sharing.

        • Cruz was not disabled from owning firearms. so there was o violation of the federal law requiring a disabling conviction or involuntary mental health detention. What the huge exposure is that the Air Force failed to report in approximately 25% of cases, while the U.S. Army failed to report in twice that many.

      • What’s the point if required information is purposely denied? They want it just to say it’s there and they did something. Who cares about actually doing it correctly? It’s close enough for government work. No, it’s a bunch of dead people in a church!

  2. Failing to enter the data on the criminal convction was only half od their negligence. A “dishonorable discharge” from the military is also a “disabling charge” when it comes to ine’s ability to purchase/possess firearms. That was a SECOND failure by USAF. Had this DD been reported to NICS as required, even if the criminal conviction had not been he still would have been disqualified as a firearms purchaser.
    Of course, we ALL know that had this piece of garbage been denied by NICS he still would have gotten his ools. Once murder is in one’s heart, the means is a minor detail.
    So the USAF only owned helf of their failure in this case.

  3. Who’s to say he wouldn’t have gotten guns and carried out the crime anyway, had he failed the background ck? Plug that in your data

    • He most likely would have, but I’ll let “dacian” explain all that Capitalvania, Civilized countries of Europe, second hand guns in Red States… Blahh…blahh…blahblahblah…blahh… blahhhh… blah… stuff… Probably hard at work copy/pasting from ITs sources as we speak, IT will be here shortly to bloviate on the subject…

  4. In this world that deals in BILLIONS and TRILLIONS it’s not enough… Lawyers get their 1/3rd leaves a little over three million per for families of the deceased even less if there was a significant numbered of seriously injured… 79 year old lady that got burned with McDonalds coffee got 2.7 million… These folks got dead from gunshots… IN CHURCH…

  5. At least the Firearm manufacturer and FFL doesn’t pay. Just because a person passes a NCIC does not indicate they are not closet criminals.

    Family, friends, coworkers, etc. are the best NCIC and that’s not saying much.

    All one can do is prepare to engage mental midgets who by all accounts think the world revolves around them.

  6. The criminal who fired the weapon is solely to blame for the deaths that he caused — not the Air Force.

    Change my mind.

    • He is but since goobermint insists we jump through these hoops there should be some finding of fault when they drop the ball.

      • Problem is that we (the taxpayers) pay for the NICS, pay for the Air Force and now we are going to pay for their failure. Heads – they win, tails – we lose.

  7. If you have murder set on your heart, a background check is going to do absolutely nothing to stop you from carrying out your plan, background checks are nothing but an infringement upon the rights of the people they need to go.

  8. This is EXTREMELY unexpected after Castle Rock. I’m surprised they did it, they must have not wanted this to hit the SC.

    As much as the left prattles on about qualified immunity they are probably happy to make this go away.

  9. Let the people defend themselves. Why is that so hard? Because armed citizens are harder to push around than disarmed slaves. So the government comes up with all these bullshit schemes that don’t work, lulling you into the notion that they are preventing bad guys from getting guns.

    Lies, lies, and more lies. Meanwhile, people die because they are prevented from defending themselves.

  10. Everytime government fucks up we get caught paying the bill, drinking the poisoned water, breathing the toxic smoke, fighting in the pointless wars and it just keeps on fucking up unabated.

    Pretty good deal it has going on.

  11. Government employees almost never lose their jobs. They almost never go to jail, for their failures and or outright Immoral and or criminal activity.

  12. This is not a Red Flag case. The military found this guy to be ineligible to have a gun. There presumably was a military court or hearing with due process with facts and laws to back up two reasons he was not eligible.

    Anyone can be stripped of their 2A rights if they get due process and a valid court decision. Prisoners and convicted felons do not have 2A rights.

    • It wasn’t his BCD but the fact that his misdemeanor charge had a year or longer prison term on the “prohibited person” requirements plus the Domestic violence issues.

  13. This case is problematic.

    While it is “good” to see DOJ/ATF successfully sued for the criminal actions of a third party, how is it that anyone figures that the lack of a data from a different government agency makes DOJ/ATF culpable for anything?

    We can cheer now, but this case seems to bolster claims that gun manufacturers, and FFLs, can be held responsible for criminal activities using firearms provided via the supply chain.

  14. here is a novel idea—taxpayers should find a very hungry lawyer and sue the base commander all the way down for not ensuring that proper notification was made—take the monies from their pensions—–why is it “oh well” and others have to pay for the mishandling

  15. I think we should take a moment to acknowledge the changing of the guard in Chitcago… Congrats, you all have elected a racist, cop hating, Marxist as YOUR new leader… ENJOY!!!

  16. Here’s an inconvenient fact :

    Had he bought those weapons via a private sale (or sales) in Texas, they couldn’t have gotten that settlement.

    I glad the families got a little something, but even a 100 billion settlement would not have brought their family members back… 🙁

  17. The government attorneys correctly pointed out the uselessness of background checks when they argued that he still would have been able to obtain a gun had he properly failed the background check. He just wouldn’t have been able to purchase it from a retailer.

    Here in Colorado, we pay a $10 Hickenlooper tax for the privilege of CBI running our “instant” check, which takes an hour if you’re lucky and days if you’re not. It’d probably be ruled unconstitutional post-Bruen, but there are more important laws to challenge first.

    • we pay a $10 Hickenlooper tax for

      Five bucks in FL, FFL charge for his/her/its/they/them/their/zis/whatever (don’t want to offend anyone) time and effort…

  18. It wasn’t his Bad Conduct Discharge, but the fact that his misdemeanor charges had a year or longer prison term on the “prohibited person” requirements plus the Domestic violence issues.


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