CHARLESTON, S.C. (Reuters) - Family members of the people killed in an attack on a South Carolina church last year have sued the U.S. government over an FBI clerk’s mistake that allowed the purchase of the gun used in the shooting.
Wrongful death lawsuits filed by relatives and survivors of the shooting and reviewed by Reuters allege that at least one of the background check databases maintained by the federal government had information that should have prevented the firearm sale.
“At the end of the day, those who were wrong are accountable,” one of the plaintiffs, Arthur Hurd, said in a telephone interview on Friday. Hurd’s wife, Cynthia, was among nine people killed in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston in June 2015.
“Our government should stand up and do for the people what is right,” Hurd said.
Dylann Roof, 22, has been charged in state court with murder and attempted murder, while federal prosecutors have charged him with 33 counts including hate crimes, obstruction of religion and firearms offenses.
Federal Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Susan McKee said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
The FBI runs federal background checks for gun dealers in more than 30 states, including South Carolina. If the agency does not report back to the retailer with a yes or no decision in three business days, U.S. law allows a gun to be sold.
FBI Director James Comey has said that Roof was able to buy a gun in April 2015 because of errors in his federal background check.
The examiner who conducted Roof’s check did not see a February 2015 police report in which Roof admitted to unlawful drug possession, which would have barred him from buying the weapon, Comey said last year.
That information did not come to light because Roof’s record listed the wrong arresting agency, federal authorities said.
Lawsuits filed by the shooting victims’ estates on Thursday reject the claim that the FBI did not have access to the arrest report that would have required the gun sale to be denied.
“Federal law precluded the government from allowing the firearm sale,” said lawyer Mullins McLeod, who represents three of the Emanuel victims’ estates. “The victims’ civil suit against the FBI seeks to hold the government accountable to the law and demonstrate it is not above the law.”
Additional reporting, writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Bernard Orr