Judge Xavier Rodriguez found that the Air Force was largely responsible for the shooting, since it did not report the gunman’s 2012 court martial for domestic violence–an offense that would have made it impossible for him to legally acquire a firearm.
A federal judge has found the United States Air Force and federal government largely responsible for a 2017 mass shooting in a Texas church.
According to The New York Times, Judge Xavier Rodriguez of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas found that the Air Force could have prevented the November 5th, 2017, massacre if it had reported Devin P. Kelley’s criminal history.
If the Air Force had reported Kelley, as it was legally bound to do, then he would not have been able to legally obtain the semi-automatic rifle he used to murder 26 people.
Kelley, writes the Times, was convicted of domestic assault against his wife and a toddler in 2012. In his Air Force court martial, held the same year, Kelley admitted that he had repeatedly hit the toddler with his bare hands, cracking the child’s skull.
He was dishonorably discharged from the Air Force two years later.
“Kelley’s domestic violence offense was not entered into the National Criminal Information Center database by the Holloman Air Force Base Office of Special Investigations,” the Air Force said shortly after the shooting.
Under federal law, a domestic violence conviction should have barred Kelley from being able to purchase a firearm.
By failing to register Kelley’s crimes, the Air Force effectively and “proximately caused the deaths and injuries of plaintiffs.”
“Had the government done its job,” Judge Rodriguez wrote, Kelley most likely “would have been deterred from carrying out the church shooting.”
In his ruling, Rodriguez held the Air Force and federal government 60% liable for the shooting. Interestingly, he accorded only 40% of the Blame to Kelley.
The New York Times notes that Rodriguez’s ruling follows a large-scale lawsuit against the federal government, brought by survivors and family members.
Judge Rodriguez has since ordered both the plaintiffs and the federal government to devise a plan to bring individual damages cases to trial.
Tom Jacob, an attorney for the plaintiffs, told Reuters that Rodriguez’s decision represents a “huge step” for families who have “endured so much loss and then had to endure the government trying to avoid responsibility.”
The New York Times observes that the same group of plaintiffs had previously tried to sue the outdoors store that sold Kelley his rifle. But last month, the Texas Supreme Court held that the firearms retailer cannot be held accountable, since Kelley’s name was not flagged during the pre-sale background check.