The department hopes that the settlements will “bring some modicum of justice to the victims”
The US Department of Justice has agreed to a civil settlement of US$88m with the victims of the 2015 mass shooting at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
The settlement brings to a close civil litigation filed in 2016 that accused the FBI of negligence in allowing White supremacist Dylann Roof to purchase the gun used in the shooting from a licenced arms dealer. The payout will cover the claims of 14 plaintiffs, according to a press release published on the justice department’s website Thursday.
Claims related to those who were killed in the incident will range from US$6m to US$7.5m per claimant, while those who survived will receive US$5m per claimant.
“The nation grieved following the mass shooting at Mother Emanuel, and no one was more profoundly affected than the families of the victims and the survivors we have reached a settlement with today,” Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said. “The department hopes that these settlements, combined with its prosecution of the shooter will bring some modicum of justice to the victims of this heinous act of hate.”
The racially motivated killing shook the US in June 2015 when Roof shot and killed nine members of the historically African-American church, including pastor and South Carolina state senator Reverend Clementa Pinckney, after entering a Wednesday night Bible study session. Roof confessed to the killings and was sentenced to death in 2017.
The families of the nine victims filed suits against the government, as did five individuals who were on the church premises at the time but survived Roof’s attack. The suits argued that the National Instant Criminal Background Checks System implemented by the FBI had not effectively and quickly identified Roof, who had made no secret of his views on his personal website, as a person who should not be allowed to possess a firearm as per federal law.
The plaintiffs sought from the government recovery for wrongful death and physical injuries caused by the incident. The cases were heard in the district court and in federal court.
“The department is pleased to bring closure to this long-running litigation. 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,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton, who works with the justice department’s civil division.
Settlements for many of the plaintiffs are subject to court approval, but all parties “expect that the court will agree that these settlements are fair and reasonable,” the department said.
Lawyer Bakari Sellers, who represented the victims of the shooting, explained to the Washington Post that the settlement amount of $88m corresponded to a significant number for White supremacists – it means “HH” or “Heil Hitler,” as “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet. US Attorney Jay Richardson also told a court during Roof’s January 2017 trial that the shooter had evoked this symbolism by bringing exactly 88 bullets to the massacre, as per the American Bar Association Journal.
The justice department confirmed that following the shooting, it was making strides towards addressing the shortcomings of the background check process in the fight against gun violence.