Family of Sutherland Springs victims sues federal government over failure to report gunman’s criminal record

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First Baptist Sutherland Springs
REUTERS/Rick WilkingPeople stand outside the site of the shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas.

The surviving members of the Holcombe family, which lost nine relatives in the mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas in November, has filed a lawsuit against the federal government for not reporting the gunman’s criminal record to a federal database.

The lawsuit, filed by Joe and Claryce Holcombe, alleges that the U.S. Air Force was negligent for failing to record the gunman’s criminal conviction in a database used to conduct background checks for people who purchase weapons.

The shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, had been convicted of domestic violence while serving in the Air Force. In 2014, he was sentenced to a year in military prison in San Diego for assaulting his wife and stepson.

The suit claims that his conviction should have prevented him from owning a firearm, but the Air Force’s failure to report the information had made it possible for him to buy the assault-style rifle that he used in the mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in November.

The mass shooting claimed the lives of 26 people, including an unborn child and the son of Joe and Claryce Holcombe, John Bryan.

“Under a 1996 law preventing spouse and child abusers from possessing firearms, the service’s Office of Special Investigations should have entered that conviction into an FBI database,” said the family’s lawyer Rob Ammons, as reported by Caller Times.

“The office didn’t, the Air Force has admitted. What’s more, 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. That qualifies them as felonies, which must be entered into the database,” he added.

The Air Force said that it has since conducted a review on its procedures following the Sutherland Springs mass shooting. The review found that the failure to record Kelley’s criminal record was “not an isolated incident and similar reporting lapses occurred at other locations.”

“Although policies and procedures requiring reporting were in place, training and compliance measures were lacking,” the Air Force said three weeks after the massacre, according to Caller Times.

Several dozen records have been corrected since the launch of the review, and about 60,000 more cases involving serious offenses are being analyzed by the Air Force to comply with the government’s reporting requirements.

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