NEW YORK (REUTERS) - A federal judge found the US government 60 per cent responsible for a 2017 mass shooting that killed 26 people at a rural Texas church, where a former Air Force serviceman used firearms he should not have been allowed to purchase.
US District Judge Xavier Rodriguez ruled on Tuesday that the Air Force did not use reasonable care when it failed to record Devin Patrick Kelley's plea to domestic violence charges in a database used for background checks on firearms purchases.
He said the government bears "significant responsibility" for harm to victims of the Nov 5, 2017, massacre at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
Twenty-two people were also injured when Kelley opened fire during a Sunday service.
Kelley, 26, died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head after being chased from the scene and crashing his vehicle into a ditch, officials said.
Victims and their families later sued the government for damages for negligently allowing Kelley to buy firearms, even after he admitted in a 2012 court martial to striking his former wife and stepson.
Kelley was discharged for bad conduct in 2014. A government report in December 2018 said the Air Force missed six chances to alert law enforcement about his history of domestic abuse.
In a 99-page decision, Rodriguez said not even Kelley's parents knew as much as the government about the violence their son was capable of.
The San Antonio-based judge found Kelley only 40 per cent responsible for the shooting.
"Had the government done its job and properly reported Kelley's information into the background check system, (it) is more likely than not that Kelley would have been deterred from carrying out the church shooting," he wrote.
Rodriguez ruled after a 10-day bench trial in April. He plans a separate trial on damages.
The US Department of Justice declined to comment.
Lawyers for many of the plaintiffs had no immediate comment or could not immediately be reached.