The United States Air Force is ordered to pay over $230 million to survivors and victims’ families of the 2017 deadly Texas church massacre.
Reportedly, the Air Force failed to report a conviction against the shooter (a former Air Force employee) that could have kept him from legally buying a weapon used in the attack.
US Air Force facing heavy penalties
Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs during Sunday service, killing over two dozen people in 2017. The shooter, who served in the Air Force before the attack, died on the spot from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Xavier Rodriguez, the US district judge, ruled in July last year the US Air Force was “60 percent liable” for the attack, due to its negligence of not submitting the assault conviction of Kelley to a national database.
According to the Air Force records, Kelley pleaded guilty to various crimes, including striking, choking, and kicking his wife. Similarly, he also struck his stepson with force that could have resulted in severe injury or even death.
— BBP News (@BBPNewsOfficial) February 7, 2022
Police reports indicated Kelley escaped a mental health facility in New Mexico in 2012 before his conviction. He even managed to bring guns to a military base where he threatened his supervisors.
Comal County Chief Sheriff Mark Reynolds stated deputies went to Kelley’s home in 2013 in New Braunfels to investigate him for three months in a rape case.
However, the authorities did not pursue the case any further. They listed it as inactive when they thought Kelley moved to Colorado and left Texas.
Air Force did not report the assault crimes of Kelley to the FBI
As per the Pentagon rules, any information regarding the conviction of military personnel in assault crimes has to be submitted to the FBI’s Criminal Investigation Services Division.
This way, it can be included in the National Criminal Information Center database.
— Jim Eastridge (@jimEastridge1) November 6, 2017
When the case progressed, lawyers of victims and survivors’ families demanded a total compensation of $418 million, but the Justice Department offered to give $31.8 million.
In November, the federal government argued per the Federal Tort Claims Act, it is only responsible for paying compensation and not the punitive reward.
However, the court heard from victims, including a person who was forced to go in a wheelchair due to his injuries, and a child who saw his mother and two sisters receiving gunshots.
Ultimately, the court ordered to enforce the penalty of $230 million on the federal government.
The Associated Press tried contacting the Justice Department, US Air Force, and the legal team of the victims, but none of them responded as of Monday.
Among the 80 claimants, there are 21 survivors with their families. Even though 25 people died in the tragedy, the official death count was reported as 26 because one lady was pregnant at the time of the shooting.