A family that lost several members during a mass shooting at a Texas church is suing the federal government, accusing the military of failing to report the killer’s court martial in a public database.
The suit, writes The New York Times, claims that gunman Devin Patrick Kelley was criminally convicted of domestic violence while serving in the United States Air Force. Despite being found guilty on two separate counts of abuse, the military never reported Kelley’s crimes to the database used to conduct background checks on individuals attempting to buy firearms.
By ignoring Kelley’s past and allowing him to retain his Second Amendment rights, the Holcombe family says he was able to buy an ‘assault-style’ rifle, used to massacre more than two dozen people at a Sutherland Springs, TX, church last November.
Of the 27 deaths incurred by Kelley, about a third were members of the Holcombe clan.
“We think this entire tragedy could have been avoided,” said Holcombe family attorney Rob Ammons.
Ammons, speaking on Friday, added that an unborn child was among the dead.
“The Air Force didn’t do its job,” he said.
Kelley, reports KSAT, was court-martialed in 2012 ‘for two counts under Article 128 UCMJ, assault on his spouse and assault on their child.’ A subsequent criminal conviction caused Kelley to receive a dishonorable discharge from the military. He served 12 months in confinement and had his rank reduced to the grade of E-1.
“The acts Kelley pleaded guilty to—breaking his baby stepson’s skull and hitting and kicking his then-wife—were punishable by imprisonment of more than a year,” Ammons said. “That qualifies them as felonies, which must be entered into the database.”
Federal law dictating the firearms purchase eligibility should have restricted Kelley from ever buying a gun.
But KSAT says ‘initial information’ indicates that Kelley’s domestic violence conviction was never entered into the National Criminal Information Center database. Officials at the Holloman Air Force Base Office of Special Investigations should have done just that but didn’t, said an Air Force spokesman.
The lawsuit says “that while the shooter ‘pulled the trigger,’ resulting in JB Holcombe’s death, it was failure of the United States Air Force and others that allowed the shooter to purchase, own and/or possess the semiautomatic rifle, ammunition and body armor he used in the shooting spree, and such failures were a proximate cause, in whole or in part, of the injuries to and death of JB Holcombe.”
The suit, filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, leaves the federal government just under a month to respond.
Ammons says the Holcombe family is seeking $50 million in damages.