Justice Department Strikes Preliminary Deal With Sutherland Springs Shooting Victims for $144.5 Million

A counsel representing the victims and the Justice Department has reportedly reached a tentative agreement to resolve the plaintiffs’ years-long legal battle with the government for $144.5 million related to the 2017 mass shooting at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

On November 5th, 2017, a gunman opened fire at a small, rural First Baptist Church, killing 26 people and injuring 22 more. Trial attorney Jamal Alsaffar told ABC News that the Sutherland Springs families  “have gone through so much pain and loss in the most horrific way, Yet,” But despite that, these families fought for justice, endured and won two trials against the Federal Government, and made this country safer as a result.”

Although the agreement is “not final,” as Alsaffar put it, and must be approved by Attorney General Merrick Garland, it would end a difficult and embarrassing process for the Department of Justice as it appealed a judge’s ruling that found the government largely responsible for the shooting if approved.

Doj Reaches Settlement With Sutherland Springs
Doj Reaches Settlement With Sutherland Springs

As the U.S. Air Force neglected to notify the FBI that the gunman, Devin Kelley, had been investigated and court-martialed for beating his then-wife and her stepson on an Air Force post, the judge concluded in July 2021 that the Air Force was 60% culpable for the church shooting.

Advocates for stricter gun laws and assault survivors have called the Biden administration’s decision to appeal the case hypocritical and say it undermines the department’s own stance on the significance of the national background checks system.

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“The evidence conclusively established that no other individual — not even Kelley’s own parents or partners — knew as much as the United States about the violence that Devin Kelley had threatened to commit and was capable of committing,” said District Judge Xavier Rodriguez, who ordered the government to pay victims more than $230 million in damages.

Several survivors still having to pay for costly medical care to repair their injuries spoke out after the government announced its intention to appeal, explaining in excruciating detail how the delays in collecting compensation money put them virtually in limbo.

“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 Wednesday. “Today’s announcement brings the litigation to a close, ending a painful chapter for the victims of this unthinkable crime.”

The DOJ added in a statement, “The NICS plays a critical role in combatting gun violence, and the federal government is always striving to improve the functioning of that system. The Department continues to work actively to combat gun violence as part of its comprehensive violent crime reduction strategy.”

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