Texas shooting victims reach $144.5M settlement with DOJ

You may recall back in November 2017 when a lunatic named Devin Kelley shot up a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 people. It was a horrifying event but it never even went to trial because Kelley took his own life after trying to flee. (Or at least that’s one version of the story.) 

There has been a legal case making its way through the courts ever since then. Family members and victims sued the government after a judge ruled the government to be partially responsible for the tragedy.

On Wednesday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced it has reached a tentative $144.5 million settlement agreement with the victims.

The settlement would resolve the federal government’s drawn-out legal battle with the families of the victims and survivors of the mass shooting after a federal judge found the government at least partially responsible for the attack.

“No words or amount of money can diminish the immense tragedy of the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said in a statement. “Today’s announcement brings the litigation to a close, ending a painful chapter for the victims of this unthinkable crime.”

A former member of the U.S. Air Force, Devin Kelley, opened fire at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs during its Sunday services on Nov. 5, 2017, killing 26 people and injuring 22 more. 

U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez found the government 60 percent responsible for the attack, after the Air Force failed to report Kelley’s criminal history to the FBI. 

“[T]he evidence shows that — had the Government done its job and properly reported Kelley’s information into the background check system — it is more likely than not that Kelley would have been deterred from carrying out the Church shooting,” Rodriguez said in the July 2021 ruling.

The U.S. government, which was ordered to pay $230 million to the victims of the shooting, had appealed the ruling in June 2022.

There never seemed to be any doubt as to the fact that Devin Kelley was a madman. (And he had a long history of being a real scumbag.) Nor was there any serious doubt about the fact that he committed the shooting. But this lawsuit really wasn’t about the actions of the shooter.

When Kelley’s background was checked, it was learned that he had been in trouble with the law on several occasions, including domestic violence charges. That’s when someone thought to raise the question of how he got his hands on a rifle with that sort of record. As it turns out, Kelley passed his background check with no problems so he legally purchased the firearm, at least technically.

But the Air Force had Kelley’s records, including the domestic violence charge. There is a special form they are supposed to use to enter that information into the federal database used for background checks. They failed to submit the form so the records didn’t show up when he applied.

That puts the government on the hook for this and now the Justice Department seems to agree. There were questions raised at the time as to whether the information would have been processed if it was recorded incorrectly, which it may have been. And even if he was on the list of people banned from purchasing firearms, it’s possible that he might have obtained one through illegal means.

But none of that changes the fact that the Air Force did mess up and a lot of people died. There’s no reason to question the judgment or the rights of the families and survivors to some sort of compensation. Hopefully, this agreement will put the matter to rest once and for all.
Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher is the editor and publisher of High Plains Pundit. Dan is also the host of the popular High Plains Pundit Podcast.

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