Fourth family files claim against Air Force after mass shooting at Texas church
By JACKIE WANG | The Dallas Morning News | Published: January 3, 2018
AUSTIN, Texas (Tribune News Service) — Another victim of the Sutherland Springs church shooting has filed a claim against the U.S. Air Force and a separate claim against the Department of Defense for failing to report the gunman’s convictions to an FBI national database.
Margarette Vidal was shot twice, in the knee and next to her spine, when Devin Kelley killed 26 people at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs and injured at least 20 more on Nov. 5, 2017. She’s been through several surgeries since then and has not yet been released from care, her attorney Jamal Alsaffar said, alternating between a surgical hospital and a rehabilitation hospital.
Kelley was court-martialed and convicted of domestic violence in 2012 for beating his first wife and assaulting his stepson. He was then confined for 12 months and received a bad conduct discharge, but the Air Force did not send information about Kelley’s criminal record to the FBI’s national database. If the conviction had been reported, it would have prevented him from legally possessing a firearm.
Vidal and her children, Monica Shabbir Vidal and Robert Vidal, sued the Air Force and Department of Defense on Nov. 20 for not reporting Kelley’s history, a news release from Austin firm National Trial Law stated.
“As a direct and proximate cause of the Government’s negligence, Kelley was able to purchase the firearms used to shoot and seriously injure Margarette Vidal,” the news release read.
Vidal’s claim makes the fourth against the federal government accusing the Air Force and Department of Defense for negligence. She is the first to file a separate claim against the Department of Defense.
Vidal and her family wants their claims to actually make the community safer and not let the government sweep its problems under the rug, Alsaffar said. The two claims the Vidals filed will hold not only the Air Force accountable, but also question the Department of Defense as the agency overseeing the Air Force as well.
“We won’t let the Department of Defense off the hook,” Alsaffar said. “We have to know this will never happen again, and that the leadership doesn’t have a laissez-faire attitude about it. When the leadership doesn’t care, that trickles down to the agencies, to the folks responsible for actually making the reports.”
The Holcombe family lost nine people to the mass shooting and sued the Air Force on Nov. 28. The Ramsey family sued the next day; mother and wife Therese Ramsey Rodriguez was killed in the shooting.
“Simply put, Therese Rodriguez’s death was caused, in whole or in part, by the institutional failures of the United States Department of Defense, including, but not limited to, the United States Air Force,” Ronald Ramsey’s claim reads. “These entities negligently, recklessly, carelessly, and/or egregiously failed.”
The Ward family also filed claims against the Air Force, WOAI reported in December. The family filed on behalf of 5-year-old Ryland Ward, who spent the holidays recovering at the hospital, and his sisters Brook and Emily and stepmother Joann, who were killed.
Deanna Staton and Michael Johnson lost their parents, Dennis and Sara Johnson, to the mass shooting. The Johnson family told The Dallas Morning News in November they planned on filing two wrongful death claims, one each on behalf of Dennis and Sara’s estates, and six more survivor claims for each of the children the couple left behind.
The claims filed by the Vidal and other families will require transparency from the government, as the courtroom is an independent arbitrator, Alsaffar said.
“[The government] will have to sit under oath, turn over documents, including the electronic system that was supposed to be monitoring and keeping track of these database filings,” Alsaffar said. “I think that’s when the buck stops — when you can no longer just talk about taking responsibility, when you have to do it.”
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