A couple who lost nine relatives when 26 people were shot and killed in the massacre at the Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church in November today sued the U.S. Government for $50 million, claiming that the death of their son was due to the 'institutional failures' of employees of the U.S. Air Force, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
The lawsuit is filed on behalf of Bryan Holcombe, who was walking to the pulpit of the small church southeast of San Antonio on November 5, 2017 when Devin Kelley barged in brandishing a Ruger AR-556 rifle and started firing. Holcombe was shot in the back and died on the floor of the church.
The lawsuit cites several incidents of violence in Kelley' career in the Air Force, including his court martial conviction on charges that he beat his wife and her young son, the fact he spent time in a military prison for that conviction, and his bad-conduct discharge from the military.
"But Airman Kelley was able to purchase an assault-style rifle as a direct result of the US Air Force's admitted, systemic and long-standing failure to comply with the law and its own internal policies, regulations, and guidelines," the lawsuit states. "The shooter then used that weapon to massacre 26 people and wound twenty more."
Information about Kelley's conviction was never uploaded into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, which gun sellers are required to consult to determine who is ineligible to buy a firearm.
Eight other members of the Holcombe family were also killed in the massacre.
Attorney Rob Ammons, the lead attorney in the lawsuit, says the Air Force knew that over the last two decades, it had routinely failed to report criminal arrest and conviction information into the federal database.
"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,”lead attorney Rob Ammons said. "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.”
Ammons said an Academy Sports and Outdoors store in San Antonio ran two separate background checks on Kelley, and he passed both of them, enabling him to purchase the firearm.
The Air Force said after the incident that it is 'implementing a number of corrective measures tro ensure reporting compliance.'
In March, President Trump signed the Fix NICS Act, a reference to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The law requires federal agencies to place criminal convictions and other background information that would prohibit a person from buying a firearm to the database, and includes provisions to hold agencies accountable if they fail to do so.
"Plaintiffs allege that while the shooter “pulled the trigger,” resulting in JB Holcombe’s death, it was failures 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 lawsuit states.