A federal judge ordered the U.S. Air Force to pay $230 million to survivors and family members of victims of the 2017 shooting at a Sutherland Springs, Texas, church.
In his ruling, released in early February, the judge said the Air Force failed in its duty to report the gunman’s violent criminal history, which ultimately led to the murders of 26 people at First Baptist Church on Nov. 5, 2017.
The judge calls the case “unprecedented”
Survivors and family members of those killed filed a federal lawsuit against the Air Force after learning the gunman, former airman Devin P. Kelley, was convicted of domestic violence in 2012. The judge said if the conviction had been reported, Kelley would likely not have been able to buy the rifle he used in the mass murder. The military was also obligated to send his fingerprints to the FBI but did not.
The judge said for failing to report Kelley’s conviction, the Air Force must pay victims for pain and suffering, mental anguish, loss of companionship, impairment and disfigurement. He added the case is unprecedented in “kind and scope.” The victims ranged in age from 5 to 72 years old.
Suing the military for negligence is challenging
Lawsuits of this nature can be hard to win since the federal government, which includes branches of the military, is protected by what’s known as “sovereign immunity.” In many cases, the government has to agree to take part before citizens can sue. However, exceptions exist, such as in this case.
The law allows citizens to hold the military accountable for the wrongful deaths of loved ones. Nearly 80 people took part in the Sutherland Springs lawsuit. Attorney Dennis Peery of The Law Offices of Tyler & Peery helped secure the award representing family members of one of the victims. While the outcome gives survivors and family members some sense of justice, no amount of money will ever make up for their loss.