People unload crosses outside the First Baptist Church, which was the site of the mass shootings that killed 26 people in Sutherland Springs, Texas on November 8, 2017.
Mark Ralston | AFP | Getty Images
A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the U.S. Air Force was essentially responsible for a 2017 mass shooting at a church in Texas that killed 26 people for failing to report the shooter’s criminal history to the FBI.
The decision concludes that the Air Force is 60% responsible for the shooting, and notes that the military’s failure to file Devin Patrick Kelley’s domestic violence charges in a federal database enabled him to purchase firearms, possession of which he should have been forbidden.
Kelley shot believers at First Baptist Church in the town of Sutherland Springs in November 2017, one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent history.
“Had the government done its job and properly reported Kelley’s information to the background check system – it is more likely that Kelley would have been prevented from carrying out the shooting of the church,” US District Judge Xavier Rodriguez wrote in the court ruling.
“For these reasons, the government bears considerable responsibility for the damage suffered by the plaintiffs.”
An Air Force spokesman did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.
Rodriquez noted in the court ruling that no other person, including Kelley’s parents or partners, knew as much about his violent history and the violence he was capable of as the government did.
The decision follows a complaint brought against the government by the victims’ families. Rodriguez also ordered a later trial within 15 days to assess the financial damage due to the survivors and the victims’ families.
Kelley served on a New Mexico air force base for nearly five years, according to court records. He was tried on trial in 2012 for assaulting his wife and stepson and was released for negligence and one year in prison.
Despite Kelley’s violent history, upon his release he was able to pass mandatory background exams to purchase four different firearms from licensed firearms dealers. Among them was an AR-556 rifle that the court ruled he used in the church shootings.
After the shooting, the Air Force publicly admitted that it could have prevented Kelley from buying firearms. according to the Associated Press.
Kelley would not have passed the background checks to purchase the firearms if his convictions had been recorded in the FBI database, the court ruling said. The 1968 Gun Control Act prohibits persons convicted of domestic violence offenses from possessing firearms.
“USAF agents and officers had an obligation – and several options – to ensure that Kelley’s fingerprints and criminal record were presented to the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services (” CJIS “) for inclusion in their databases,” Rodriguez said in the Court decision.
The Texas Supreme Court last month ruled the store that sold the rifle used in the shooting to Kelley could not be sued. Families of the victims and survivors filed a lawsuit against Academy Sports + Outdoors, but the court dismissed it because the store’s background check failed to reveal Kelley’s allegations.