Today, the Department of Justice announced that it has reached an agreement in principle to settle the civil cases arising out of the June 2015 Mother Emanuel AME Church mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina.
These settlements will resolve claims by 14 plaintiffs arising out of the shooting. Plaintiffs agreed to settle claims alleging that the FBI was negligent when it failed to prohibit the sale of a gun by a licensed firearms dealer to the shooter, a self-proclaimed white supremacist, who wanted to start a “race war” and specifically targeted the 200-year-old historically African-American congregation. For those killed in the shooting, the settlements range from $6 million to $7.5 million per claimant. For the survivors, the settlements are for $5 million per claimant.
The parties have been in litigation since 2016, including before the district court and the federal court of appeals.
“The mass shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church was a horrific hate crime that caused immeasurable suffering for the families of the victims and the survivors,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “Since the day of the shooting, the Justice Department has sought to bring justice to the community, first by a successful hate crime prosecution and today by settling civil claims.”
“The nation grieved following the mass shooting at Mother Emanuel, and no one was more profoundly affected than the families of the victims and the survivors we have reached a settlement with today,” said Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta. “The department hopes that these settlements, combined with its prosecution of the shooter will bring some modicum of justice to the victims of this heinous act of hate.”
“The department is pleased to bring closure to this long-running litigation,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Boynton of the Justice Department’s Civil Division. “These settlement agreements represent another chapter in the justice system’s efforts to address this horrific event, following the government’s prosecution and conviction of the shooter for federal hate crimes.”
On June 17, 2015, Mother Emanuel congregants welcomed a stranger who had entered their church. They invited him to participate in their Wednesday night bible study. Tragically, at the close of the bible study, the young man they had welcomed killed nine people, including Mother Emanuel’s pastor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, also a South Carolina State Senator.
The families of the Emanuel Nine, as well as the five survivors who were inside the church at the time of the shooting, sued the government. They sought to recover for wrongful death and physical injuries arising from the shooting. Plaintiffs asserted that the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Checks System (NICS) failed to timely discover that the shooter was a person prohibited by federal law from possessing a firearm. Plaintiffs alleged that because of this delay, the shooter was able to purchase the handgun that he used to commit the atrocity.
The FBI and NICS play a crucial role in combatting gun violence. Since this tragic shooting, the FBI has worked to strengthen and improve the background check process. The department and FBI are also actively working to combat gun violence, which is a significant aspect of the department’s comprehensive violent crime reduction strategy. After the shooting, the department prosecuted the shooter for federal hate crimes and obtained a conviction.
Under applicable law, the court must approve the settlements for many of the plaintiffs. All parties expect that the court will agree that these settlements are fair and reasonable. This case was handled by the Justice Department’s Civil Division.