Massive $88M settlement reached with families of SC’s Charleston church mass shooting

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The federal government will pay a total $88 million to settle a case brought by the families and survivors of the nine Charleston church shooting victims murdered by a white nationalist in 2015.

The total settlement amount was confirmed Thursday by Charleston attorney Carl Pierce, whose firm represented one of the people slain at Mother Emanuel church, the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr.

Individual settlements for all victims in the shooting were being filed Thursday morning in the U.S. District Court in Columbia. It was approved by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Five years in the making, the settlement arose out of lawsuits filed by victims and their families in the wake of the June 2015 murders at the historic Mother Emanuel Church. The convicted shooter, Dylann Roof, was found guilty and sentenced to death in federal court in January 2017.

The lawsuits alleged that the FBI, which had a duty to perform background checks on handgun buyers, was negligent when the agency performed a background check on Roof, who had just turned 21.

Under federal law, gun buyers must undergo a computer background check at the federally-licensed firearm dealer.

Roof exploited what critics call a weakness in the law — the so-called “Charleston loophole” — to buy the .45 caliber Glock handgun that he used to kill all nine people with money he received from his father for his 21st birthday, evidence in the case said.

Under that law, gun sellers can sell firearms to a buyer after three days regardless if the FBI’s background check has been completed. If a person faces felony charges, the gun store must deny the buyer that purchase.

In Roof’s case, he was facing a felony drug charge but the FBI failed to discover that in its search of police databases.

After three days, the gun store sold Roof the gun.

As part of the the settlement announced Thursday, the Justice Department admitted no fault.

Dozens of attorneys, many from South Carolina, participated in settling the case. Judge Margaret Seymour presided.

The names of the churchgoers killed, and whose relatives sued the government, are the late state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, the Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, the Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr. and Myra Thompson.

The lawsuits filed by the victim’s family members were at first dismissed by a lower federal court in South Carolina. The government had claimed immunity from such lawsuits.

However, in August 2019, the plaintiffs won a major victory when a majority of a three-judge panel for the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the lawsuits and ruled they could go forward and that the government did not have immunity.

The “loophole” received considerable attention in the weeks following the June 2015 shootings.

Then, former FBI Director James Comey issued a public statement explaining that Roof was prohibited under federal law from possessing a firearm when he bought the the Glock 41 semiautomatic pistol he used in the attacks only because of lapses in the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

“Dylann Roof, the alleged killer of so many innocent people at the Emanuel AME church, should not have been allowed to purchase the gun he allegedly used that evening,” Comey said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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