RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — 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 was reinstated Friday by a federal appeals court.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a ruling from a lower court judge who threw out the claims., brought by relatives of people killed in the 2015 massacre at Charleston’s AME Emanuel Church, and by survivors.
The lower court judge found that the government was immune from liability. The appeals court disagreed.
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 for the slayings.
The appeals court panel disagreed with the judge’s finding that the families’ claims do not fit into narrow exceptions to laws that shield government employees from liability while carrying out their official duties. The ruling means the lawsuit can move forward.
The FBI has acknowledged that Roof’s drug possession arrest in Columbia, South Carolina, weeks before the shooting should have prevented him from buying a gun.
In his ruling last year, U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel described a series of clerical errors and missteps that allowed Roof to buy the handgun he later used in the massacre. Gergel sharply criticized the FBI for what he called its “disturbingly superficial” background check system.
In arguments before the appeals court in May, a lawyer for the families said an examiner with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System was required under standard operating procedures to do additional research after learning Roof had been arrested.
But a government lawyer told the judges that the standard operating procedures are not binding and are meant only as guidance for examiners who process about 22,000 inquiries per day and about 8.2 million a year.