The families of nine people who died in a 2015 racist mass shooting at a Black South Carolina church have reached a settlement with the justice department in a lawsuit that accused federal agencies of a faulty background check that allowed the white supremacist killer Dylann Roof to purchase a gun.
The justice department will pay $88m, which includes $63m for the victims’ families as well as $25m for five survivors who were injured at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof wanted to start a race war by targeting the 200-year-old historically Black congregation.
“The department is pleased to bring closure to this long-running litigation,” said Brian M Boynton, acting assistant attorney general of the justice department’s civil division. “These settlement agreements represent another chapter in the justice system’s efforts to address this horrific event, following the government’s prosecution and conviction of the shooter for federal hate crimes.”
Survivors and the victims’ families filed the lawsuit in 2016, arguing that federal negligence allowed Roof to buy the .45-caliber handgun he used during the shooting. The Lexington county sheriff, Jay Koon, said a jail clerk entered incorrect information for Roof’s February 2015 drug arrest, and that while the mistake was noticed within days, it was not fixed in a state database.
As a result, when Roof attempted to purchase the gun two months later, an FBI examiner spotted the arrest but called the incorrect agency to obtain his record. Without the necessary documents, the purchase had to go through.
According to local attorney Andy Savage, who represents some members of the group, survivors are satisfied with the settlement.
In a statement sent to NPR, Savage said: “The funds made available to these families will help accommodate their material needs, but the depth of their loss of cherished loved ones, and the continued mental anguish caused by their vivid memories of helplessly watching the racist slaughter of family and friends, cannot be assuaged by money alone.
“It is their hope that their experience will help to focus those in leadership positions on the plight of the daily trauma suffered by an untold number of victims of gun violence. To do nothing is to continue to accept racial violence and wanton massacres as an integral part of the American experience,” Savage added.
In 2017, Roof was sentenced to death after being convicted of 33 federal charges, including murder and hate crimes. He is the first person to face execution for a federal hate crime conviction.
Last year, Roof appealed against his convictions and death sentence, arguing that he was suffering from a wide variety of psychological disorders including schizophrenia when he represented himself at his capital trial.