Federal Judge Xavier Rodriguez ruled the Air Force was 60% responsible for the mass shooting at a church in Texas in 2017 after failing to report gunman David Kelley's domestic abuse record to the FBI. File Photo by Larry W. Smith/EPA-EFE
July 7 (UPI) -- A federal judge on Wednesday ruled that the U.S. Air Force was largely responsible 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 joined the Air Force in 2010 and served in New Mexico before he was discharged for abuse of his wife and stepson and sentenced to 12 months in prison.
A court filing showed that Air Force Investigators found a "long history of violence and abuse" during the investigation into the domestic assault allegations including that Kelley "threatened to kill both (his wife) and Air Force Security Forces" if she reported the abuse to authorities.
Kelley's wife also told investigators he threatened to commit a mass shooting at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico.
Court filings showed Kelley later remarried and abused his second wife.
A day after the shooting, the Air Force said a review of its procedures showed that it failed to enter the domestic violence conviction into the federal background check database and a watchdog review in 2018 found the service failed on six occasions to notify the FBI of his domestic abuse record.
Last month, the Supreme Court ruled that the store that sold Kelley the assault style weapon used in the shooting could not be sued due to the Air Force's failure to flag the assault conviction.