SAN ANTONIO, Texas (Nexstar) — On Tuesday, closing arguments were heard in federal court in a case filed against the U.S. government on behalf of victims and family members involved in the Sutherland Springs shooting in 2017.
Attorney Jamal Alsaffar started his closing statements by stating the government’s negligence caused gunman Devin Kelley to obtain the weapon he used in the shooting.
He explained the U.S. Air Force should have reported Kelley’s physical assaults on his wife and child, and his mental health conditions that involved threats to kill his direct leadership at his base to authorities outside the Air Force.
Pastor Frank Pomeroy, whose daughter died in the massacre in 2017, explained he would not be joining the lawsuit because to him, nothing can bring her back. But, he understands why others are filing it.
“Our shooter should not have ever been able to purchase a firearm, if most of the standard operating procedures of the government of the military had been followed.,” Pomeroy said, “I think there’s culpability on their part, to take care of those who are going to have medical bills for the rest of their life.”
Alsaffar said this would have entered Kelley into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. This would have potentially led to Kelley failing his background check when he tried purchasing his murder weapon at Academy Sports & Outdoors, and prevented the shooting altogether.
The defense attorney, Paul Stern, however, said even if Kelley was denied the purchase at Academy, he would’ve found another way to get a gun. Pastor Pomeroy said that shouldn’t clear the government’s responsibility.
“Now, he could get it anyway. But at least it would have been a lot more difficult. Maybe even stopped this,” Pomeroy said Tuesday.
Stern also added the U.S. Air Force would not have been able to tell Kelley’s family about his mental health conditions due to HIPAA law. Stern also said even if the Air Force had reported the domestic violence incidents, this would not have predicted gun violence.
But Alsaffar countered that the domestic incidents and the mental health conditions were enough to deny the former airman entry into the Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico in 2013, so that could have been enough to stop the purchase.
“There’s nothing that the government can do to bring them back. But what the government can do is hold the military or whomever accountable to make sure that doesn’t happen again,” Pomeroy said.
There is no set timeline for when the judge will make a decision on the case. If the Air Force is found liable, there will be another trial to determine damages, where victims and family members will testify.