The families of nine people killed in a 2015 mass shooting at the historic Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. reached an $88 million settlement with the Department of Justice, claiming that authorities should have stopped Dylann Roof from purchasing a pistol.
The settlements range from $6 million to $7.5 million per claim for the families of the nine people killed, and the five survivors will each receive $5 million, the Department of Justice said in a press release on Thursday.
“We’ve given a big ‘F you’ to white supremacy and racism,” Bakari Sellers, the attorney for the families of the victims killed in the attack, told the Associated Press. “We’re doing that by building generational wealth in these Black communities, from one of the most horrific race crimes in the country.”
On June 17, 2015, Roof, a 21-year-old neo-Nazi opened fire during the tail-end of a Bible study at the historic church, killing nine people including the pastor, State Sen. Clementa Pinckney. Authorities said Roof wanted to start a race war.
In 2016, the families of the victims and survivors filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department, accusing the FBI of negligence due to a flaw in Charleston’s background check system, WLTX reports.
The AP also reported on the errors in Roof’s background check:
The errors included wrongly listing the sheriff’s office as the arresting agency in the drug case, according to court documents. An examiner with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System found some information on the arrest but needed more to deny the sale, so she sent a fax to a sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s office responded it didn’t have the report, directing her to the Columbia police.
Under the system’s operating procedures, the examiner was directed to a federal listing of law enforcement agencies, but Columbia police did not appear on the list. After trying the separate West Columbia Police Department and being told it was the wrong agency, the examiner did nothing more.
The violent shooting at the famous Charleston church was a devastating hate crime “that caused immeasurable suffering for the families of the victims and the survivors,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in a statement. “Since the day of the shooting, the Justice Department has sought to bring justice to the community, first by a successful hate crime prosecution and today by settling civil claims.”
Roof, who had a long history of drug use, was charged with drug possession in Columbia, S.C. just weeks prior to the shooting. Roof’s drug arrest should have restricted the purchase of a handgun, but the FBI did not complete his background check within three business days, which allowed Roof to buy the .45-caliber Glock pistol, Roll Call reports.
In a press release Thursday, members of the Department of Justice spoke in detail about the settlement. Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton of the Justice Department’s Civil Division said the agreement ends years of 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.”
Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said while the nation was heartbroken over the deaths, “no one was more profoundly affected than the families of the victims and the survivors we have reached a settlement with today.” He added that the department hopes the settlements, combined with its prosecution of Roof, “will bring some modicum of justice to the victims of this heinous act of hate.”