Appeals court reinstates lawsuit in Charleston church shooting case

Updated: Aug. 30, 2019 at 5:28 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP/WCSC) - A federal appeals court has reinstated a lawsuit over a faulty background check that allowed Dylann Roof to buy the gun he used to kill nine people in a racist attack at a South Carolina church.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday reversed a ruling from a lower court judge who threw out the claims. The claims were brought by relatives of people killed in the 2015 massacre at Charleston’s AME Emanuel Church, and by survivors.

Dylann Roof (Photo source: Charleston County Police)
Dylann Roof (Photo source: Charleston County Police)

Judge Richard Gergel ruled in 2018 the suits would be thrown out, citing the FBI’s recommendation and the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act. The act provides specific provisions which protect the federal government and gives them immunity from such lawsuits.

The lawsuits from victims were filed in July 2016, and accused the federal government of making errors in its background check of Dylann Roof that allowed him to buy the .45 caliber handgun he used in the June 2015 shooting.

The sale of the handgun to Roof was completed on April 14, 2015, roughly one-and-a-half months after he was charged for possession of a schedule III drug in February 2015, a charge which would have restricted him from purchasing the gun.

Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon told The Associated Press in the summer of 2015 that a clerk entered incorrect information for Roof's prior drug arrest, which prevented an FBI examiner from finding the arrest details when Roof tried to buy a gun.

Even though he sided with the federal government, citing other case law as well, that didn't stop Gergel from also criticizing the federal background check system and trumpeting some successes of the lawsuit.

“The record reveals that the FBI’s background check system is disturbingly superficial, excessively micromanaged by rigid standard operating procedures, and obstructed by policies that deny the overworked and overburdened examiners access to the most comprehensive law enforcement federal database,” Gergel said in the 2018 decision.

The appeals court disagreed with Gergel’s decision that the government was immune from liability.

The FBI has acknowledged that Roof’s drug possession arrest weeks before the shooting should have prevented him from buying a gun.

Roof has been sentenced to death in the massacre.

Copyright 2019 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.