Charleston church shooting victims sue FBI over gun buy

Published: Jul. 1, 2016 at 4:18 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 1, 2016 at 7:51 PM EDT
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Families of some of the nine parishioners killed at Mother Emanuel AME Church last summer as well as some of the survivors have filed lawsuits against the FBI.

The suits have been filed on behalf of the estates of Ethyl Lance, Tywanza Sanders, Susie Jackson and Myra Thompson, all of whom died in the shooting. Suits were also filed by survivors Felicia Sanders and Polly Sheppard and a juvenile, all of whom were present in the basement of the church when Roof is accused of opening fire.

One additional complaint is to be filed at a later date, according to attorney Andy Savage, who is representing the victims' families and survivors in the suits.

The suits accused the federal government of errors that enabled Dylann Roof to buy the .45-caliber handgun used in the June 2015 shootings at the church.

Savage issued this statement on the lawsuits:

"In the aftermath of the June 17, 2015 Emanuel AME church shootings, FBI Director James Comey admitted to the families affected by this tragedy that the systems the FBI has in place to prevent unauthorized purchases of firearms failed, allowing the shooter to obtain a weapon he was not eligible to possess. This weapon was used to murder the family members of our clients. 

"Since that time, the survivors and family members have watched the continuing failure of those who are responsible to recognize the importance of screening purchasers in the interest of safe gun ownership. The Federal inaction to close the gaps in the vetting system means that if States wish to address the issue, they are forced to implement their own workarounds to deal with incomplete or incorrect information passed on by a deficient Federal system.

"Our clients are disappointed that despite the efforts led by State Senators Marlon Kimpson and Gerald Malloy, the State of South Carolina has failed to close the "Charleston loophole" caused by Federal inadequacies, even in the shadow of this tragedy. The victims and families hope that by bringing these actions, they can shine a very bright light on these shortcomings and prevent other individuals, families and communities from dealing with unfathomable and preventable loss and injury."

Federal officials didn't immediately return an email from the Associated Press. FBI Director James Comey has said Roof shouldn't have been able to buy the gun and promised a full review.

Lexington County Sheriff Jay Koon told The Associated Press last summer 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.

The lawsuits cite Roof's arrest on Feb. 28, 2015 after Columbia police officers questioned him about an incident at Columbiana Centre Mall. During that questioning, the suits state, authorities found a bottle of Suboxone, a narcotic used either for treating opiate addictions or as a recreational drug and a Schedule III controlled substance.

Documents state Roof admitted to possessing the narcotic, and based on the admission, was charged for Possession of a Schedule III drug.

The suits state that because "Roof was an unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance, he could not legally be sold a gun under the Brady Act."

In addition, Roof's arrest records mistakenly stated he had been charged with a felony, when he had actually been charged with a misdemeanor, the suits state, but add that based on the information in his arrest report he was "under indictment for a felony" and should not for that reason have been able to purchase a gun under the Brady Act.

The suits state, however, that on April 11, 2015, six weeks after his arrest, Roof attempted to purchase a handgun

from a firearms dealer in West Columbia. The suits state that despite Roof's arrest on a felony charge was included "in at least one of the databases maintained by the FBI for use in its background checks," the FBI did not deny the sale of the gun, and that sale was completed on April 14, 2015.

The suits allege Roof walked into Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015 and shot and killed nine people with the handgun he illegally purchased in April.

Copyright 2016 WCSC. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.