HOUSTON – An attorney representing Joe and Claryce Holcombe -- who lost nine family members in the Sutherland Springs shooting -- announced wrongful death claims were filed against the U.S. Air Force on Tuesday.
Their son, Bryan Holcombe, and eight other family members, including an unborn child, were among the 26 people killed in last month’s Texas church shooting.
The claims state their deaths were caused "in whole or in part by the institutional failures of the United States Department of Defense, including, but not limited to the United States Air Force."
“We want to discipline the Air Force so that something like this is not going to happen again,” Joe Holcombe said.
The filing also states that the Air Force failed to enter the gunman's criminal convictions, arrest and military discharge information that would have prevented him from purchasing, owning or possessing the firearms, ammunition and body amour used in the shooting.
“They goofed. They really goofed,” Holcombe said. “They let info that should have been turned over to the authorities, they let it drop, and this guy was able to buy a gun and use it.”
Rob Ammons, Holcombe’s attorney based in Houston, did not say how much in damages the family is seeking.
“Let’s prevent these servicemen that have been convicted of these violent crimes from getting guns,” Ammons said. “Let’s stop that and we’ll worry about the rest later.”
Coincidentally, in a statement sent on Tuesday, the Air Force blamed failures in “training and compliance measures” for the lapse involving Kelley, who had been convicted of assaulting his wife and stepson in 2012.
The Air Force said it has taken corrective actions to prevent such reporting lapses.
The Air Force previously acknowledged it did not submit Devin Patrick Kelley's criminal history to FBI, as required by Pentagon rules.
After the shooting, the Air Force launched a review of how the information was handled and said in a statement:
Kelley was convicted by a general court-martial on two charges of domestic assault against his wife and step-son under Article 128 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. He then served 12-months in confinement at Naval Consolidated Brig Miramar in California before being released with a Bad Conduct Discharge in 2014. He was also reduced in grade to E-1. Federal law prohibited him from buying or possessing firearms after this conviction. Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein directed a complete review of the Kelley case by the Air Force Office of the Inspector General. The Service will also conduct a comprehensive review of Air Force databases to ensure records in other cases have been reported correctly. The Air Force has also requested that the Department of Defense Inspector General review records and procedures across the Department of Defense.
Kelley, according to an official with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, purchased a gun in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017.
The Holcombe family's claim states the Department of Defense, the U.S. Air Force and others were aware "as far back as 1997" that the U.S. Air Force and other branches "routinely failed to report report such required criminal arrest and conviction information."
The claim goes on to cite a report from the Inspector General's Office from 2015 that found that approximately 30 percent of criminal convictions were not submitted.
"Fingerprints for 304 Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps convicted offenders in our evaluation sample period were not in the FBI’s IAFIS criminal history database," a summary read. "The evaluated Services had an overall fingerprint collection and submission compliance rate of 72 percent."
The Holcombes' claim states the failures of the U.S. Air Force, and others, caused Bryan's death:
Although the shooter undoubtedly 'pulled the trigger' that resulted in the injuries and death of (Bryan) Holcombe and others, the failures of the US Air Force, and others, allowed the shooter to purchase, own and/or possess the semiautomatic rifle, ammunition and body armor he used, and it is these failures that were a proximate cause, in whole or in part of the injuries and death of (Bryan).
The family has retained the Ammons Law Firm in Houston.