Nine people were killed when a 21-year-old white supremacist, Dylann Roof, entered Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church during Bible study and began firing a handgun. He later confessed, saying he acted in hopes of igniting a race war.
The families sued after the FBI revealed that its system for conducting background checks failed to catch a fact that should have blocked the sale of the gun Roof used in the shooting. He bought the Glock 41 two months earlier at a shopping mall in West Columbia.
The settlement provides $63 million for families of those killed in the shooting rampage and $25 million for survivors, according to lawyers involved in the agreement.
“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,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said Thursday. “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.”
Roof’s criminal history showed that he had been arrested on a felony drug charge in Lexington County, South Carolina, where the sheriff’s office told the FBI examiner conducting the background check to contact the Columbia Police.
But the FBI’s databases showed no such department in Lexington County, only a different one — the West Columbia police department — which had no record of any arrest. The FBI said the examiner also called the Lexington County prosecutor but never heard back.
Though the background check was still underway, Roof got his gun after the three-day waiting period expired. Federal law allows a gun sale to go ahead if the FBI hasn’t blocked it after three days.
The FBI later learned that Roof had pleaded guilty to the drug charge.
“We are all sick this happened,” the FBI director at the time, James Comey, said after discovering the mistake. “We wish we could turn back time.”
In a ruling allowing the lawsuits to go forward, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit concluded, “There is no dispute that the information in this report would have been sufficient to establish that Roof was an unlawful user of a controlled substance who could not lawfully possess a firearm.”
The FBI later said discovering the error led to changes in how it checks for criminal histories in conducting background checks.
Roof was convicted and sentenced to death after a trial in federal court. He also pleaded guilty in a separate trial in state court and was sentenced to life in prison.