Lawsuit: Fort Hood soldier's offenses not reported before shootings
By KATIE HALL | Austin American-Statesman | Published: February 25, 2017
AUSTIN, Texas (Tribune News Service) — The surviving family members of people shot and killed by a Fort Hood soldier two years ago are accusing his supervisors of not reporting that the soldier had violated a no-contact restraining order, which they say would have made it harder for him to buy the gun he used in the shooting.
The details are contained in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court. “The United States of America” is the only defendant named.
On Feb. 22, 2015, a 30-year-old Fort Hood soldier named Atase Giffa fatally shot two of his neighbors – Lydia Farina and Larry Guzman – before killing his wife, 28-year-old wife Dawn Giffa, and himself, Killeen police investigators have said. The shootings occurred in Killeen outside the military base.
About two weeks before the shooting, the lawsuit says, the Giffas got into an argument in which Atase Giffa ended up grabbing his wife, throwing her to the ground and restraining her. When Dawn Giffa reported the domestic abuse to Killeen police, they told her to call the military police and her husband’s commander, which she did, the suit says.
The commander told her that Atase Giffa had a no-contact restraining order against him that would keep him in the barracks for seven days, the lawsuit says. However, he violated the order twice, and in both times he drove by the couple’s house, the suit says. Dawn Giffa reported this to his commander, but the suit says that these violations weren’t recorded.
The lawsuit says that the Army never submitted records of a restraining order against Atase Giffa — let alone that he violated it — to the National Crime Information Center database.
“Violations of the no-contact order should have been put in the National Crime Information Center database to have been shared with the Killeen Police Department, among other police and law enforcement agencies, and would have shown up in a (National Instant Criminal Background Check System) search when Giffa purchased his handgun at the pawn shop and ammunition at Wal-Mart” after he was released, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit states that less than one week before the shooting, Dawn Giffa told the Army’s family counselor, “If you release him, he will kill me.”
“The Army regulations require, and it is common sense, that once the Army deems a soldier to be a serious potential threat to himself or others, a whole host of duties get triggered to protect the soldier, spouse and kids,” said Joseph Schreiber, the attorney who is representing the families in the suit. “None of that happened.”
The U.S. Army press center for Fort Hood didn’t respond Friday to an email seeking comment on the suit.
Atase Giffa was released from Fort Hood on Feb. 18, 2015. At the time, Dawn Giffa and her son were staying with neighbors, the suit says. Four days later, Atase Giffa went to the house and asked Dawn Giffa to come back. She told him she needed some space and time. Atase Giffa left, retrieved a gun “that he had recently purchased,” returned to their neighbors’ home and began the shooting rampage in which Dawn Giffa, Farina and Guzman were killed, the lawsuit says.
Atase Giffa killed himself afterward. Several children of the people who died witnessed and survived the shooting, the lawsuit says.
“The tragedy here is that all of this could’ve been prevented if the Army had followed its own rules,” Schreiber said.
Fort Hood officials identified Spc. Ata-Se Giffa as the soldier who died of an apparent gunshot wound Feb. 23 at his off-post residence in Killeen, Texas. Giffa was assigned to 1st Battalion, 62nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment, 69th Air Defense Artillery Brigade, Fort Hood, since January 2014.