On Wednesday, a federal court decided that the United States Air Force was mainly to blame for the November 2017 mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Judge Xavier Rodriguez said the Air Force “proximately caused the deaths and injuries” of the shooting victims as it failed to alert the FBI that gunman Devin Kelley could not legally purchase a firearm after he was investigated and court-martialed for assaulting his then-wife and her stepson on an Air Force base.
“The court concludes that the government failed to exercise reasonable care in its undertaking to submit criminal history to the FBI,” Rodriguez wrote in the civil case brought by families of the victims. “The government’s failure to exercise reasonable care increased the risk of physical harm to the general public, including plaintiffs.”
Rodriguez ruled that the Air Force bore 60% of the responsibility for the shooting due to its failures, while 40% lay with Kelley himself.
“The 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,” he wrote.
Kelley killed 26 people, including several children and a pregnant woman in the Nov. 5, 2017, shooting at First Baptist Church near San Antonio and led two civilians on a high-speed chase before he was found dead with multiple gunshot wounds, including a self-inflicted one to the head.
Kelley entered the Air Force in 2010 and served in New Mexico before being dismissed for domestic violence against his wife and stepson and sentenced to a year in jail.
During the investigation into the domestic assault accusations, Air Force Investigators discovered a “long history of violence and abuse” including that Kelley “threatened to kill both (his wife) and Air Force Security Forces” if she reported the abuse to authorities, according to a court document.
Kelley’s wife reportedly told authorities that he threatened to perform a mass shooting at New Mexico’s Holloman Air Force Base.
According to court documents, Kelley eventually remarried and mistreated his second wife.
The Air Force said a review of its processes revealed that it failed to submit the domestic violence conviction into the federal background check database, and a watchdog assessment in 2018 discovered that the military failed to notify the FBI about his domestic abuse record on six occasions.
The Supreme Court concluded last month that the shop that sold Kelley the assault weapon used in the killing could not be sued because the Air Force failed to identify the assault conviction.