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Justice Department to pay $88M to families, survivors of Charleston church shooting

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Justice Department to pay $88M to families, survivors of Charleston church shooting
Felicia Sanders and Polly Sheppard, survivors of the Mother Emanuel Church shooting in Charleston, SC, sued the federal government over Dylann Roof's illegal gun purchase. File Photo by Pat Benic/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 28 (UPI) -- The Justice Department agreed Thursday to pay $88 million to families and survivors of the 2015 deadly church shooting in Charleston, S.C., resolving claims against the government concerning the failure of its gun background check system.

Attorney Bakari Sellers with the Strom Law Firm announced the $88 million agreement during a press conference with the families of the survivors, calling it one of the largest civil rights settlements in the nation's history.

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"This is what the law is about," he said. "We can not bring back those nine victims, we can not erase the scars that those survivors have, but what we do here today as lawyers and these families is we say we stand on justice."

From the settlement, $63 million will go to the families of the victims and $25 million will go to the survivors of the horrific shooting at the historically Black Charleston Mother Emanuel AME Church on July 17, 2015.

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Sellers said the number 88 is steeped in hatred as it is a Nazi symbol but now it stands in defiance of the nation's White supremacists and racists "by saying we're taking this tragedy that they tried to tear our country apart with" to build Black communities and generational wealth.

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Eliana Pinckney, the daughter of the church's pastor and South Carolina state Sen. Clementa Pinckney who was killed during the shooting, told reporters during the press conference that no amount of compensation will replace her father's life but through it they will maintain his legacy.

"It allows me and my sister to have the opportunity to make sure that we're doing everything we can to make sure my father's legacy doesn't go away, to make sure we're doing everything we can with the rest of our lives, living it to our fullest potential and making sure that his legacy stays up lifted," she said.

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A federal jury sentenced White supremacist Dylann Roof to death in January 2017 after he openly admitted to killing the nine people who were in a bible study in an attempt to spark a race war. A month before the sentencing the jury convicted him on 33 federal charges, including hate crimes.

Roof, who had just turned 21, was arrested for a felony drug offense in Lexington County, S.C., a few months before he purchased the Glock 41 semi-automatic pistol used to kill nine people on June 17, 2015. An examiner for the FBI's background check system failed to contact the arresting agency for an incident report, which would have blocked him from purchasing the gun from Shooter's Choice in West Columbia, S.C., court records show.

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About a year ago, a federal judge ruled that a federal agent failed to follow the FBI's system for conducting background check ruled under the Brady Act, which denies gun purchases to someone with a felony allowing lawsuits by family members and survivors to proceed.

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More recently, a federal appeals court refused to have its full panel of judges hear an appeal of Roof's death sentence. Roof had petitioned the court in August after a three-judge panel voted unanimously to uphold the death sentence.

Roof's lawyers said prosecutors emphasized the goodness of the nine victims and that violated Supreme Court precedent.

Pinckney, 41; Cynthia Hurd, 54; Tywanza Sanders, 26, Myra Thompson, 59; Ethel Lance, 70; Susie Jackson, 87; DePayne Middleton Doctor, 49; Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, 45; and Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., 74, died in the 2015 shooting.

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