Judge approves $88M settlement for families of 9 killed in Charleston church massacre

WASHINGTON — The United States announced last month there is an $88 million settlement with the victims’ families and the survivors from the Charleston church shooting who sued over a faulty FBI background check that allowed Dylann Roof to buy a gun.

On Wednesday, the federal judge who oversees the suit approved the settlement.

The deal includes $63 million for the families of the slain and $25 million for survivors of the shooting. The settlement will be split among the survivors and the victims’ families. According to the Justice Department, settlements for the families of those killed range from $6 million to $7.5 million per claimant. Survivors’ settlements are $5 million per claimant.

In October, Channel 9 anchor Allison Latos was the only local reporter to sit down with three of the attorneys representing the family of South Carolina Sen. Clementa Pinckney. Gerald Malloy, his son Donovan and Rock Hill attorney Randy Hood represent Pinckney’s family in the federal civil lawsuit.

They said this is the largest individual Civil Rights settlement in United States history and called the process of getting to this point a 6-year march for justice.

Malloy wasn’t just a colleague of Pinckney’s, they were great friends -- Malloy called him a brother.

Pinckney, the pastor at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, and other parishioners participated in a Bible study in June of 2015, the night Roof walked in, listened to their message of faith, then opened fire killing nine people.

“You’re representing people who experienced loss in the most horrendous way that you can,” Donovan Malloy told Channel 9.


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In the lawsuit, they claimed the 2015 killings could have been prevented had an FBI background check flagged Roof’s prior drug arrest and prevented him from buying a gun.

“If you give a gun to someone who shouldn’t have a gun, then they can do terrible things. Heinous things, deadly things,” Hood said.

In this case, Roof slaughtered nine people.

Pinckney’s daughter Eliana spoke during Thursday’s press conference about what the settlement meant to them and how their lives are forever changed.

“No amount of compensation will ever replace my father’s life,” Pinckney said.

She said that with the government’s help and the people standing behind her, the settlement will help her father’s memory live on.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure that my father’s legacy doesn’t go away, to make sure that we’re doing everything we can with the rest of our lives, living to our fullest potential, and making sure that his legacy stays uplifted,” Eliana Pinckney said.

The “88″ figure was intentional. It’s a number typically associated with white supremacy and the number of bullets Roof said he had taken with him to the attack.

“It goes back to Adolf Hitler. The number 8 is the letter ‘H,’” Hood told Channel 9. “88 is symbolic for racism, but in this case, $88 million stood for justice for people of color.

“[It’s] a big F-you to the white supremacists and racists in this country by saying that we’re taking this tragedy that they tried to tear our country apart with and build Black communities with generational wealth,” attorney Bakari Sellers said in Thursday’s press conference.

(WATCH BELOW: Channel 9′s DaShawn Brown speaks to Sellers, who was close friends with Pinckney and helped fight for justice)

The parties in the lawsuit have been in litigation since 2016, according to the DOJ.

“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 in a statement. “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.”

At last month’s press conference, lawyers and victims’ families expressed their gratitude to have reached a settlement.

“This is what the law is about,” Sellers said. “We cannot bring back those nine victims. We cannot erase the scars that those survivors have.”

Sellers thanked President Joe Biden, his administration and US Attorney General Merrick Garland, saying, “Even more importantly, the reason that we’re here today is because these victims were the best of the best of us.”

(FULL PRESS CONFERENCE: Lawyers announce historic settlement reached with survivors, families of those killed in Charleston church massacre)

“We still continue, we still must go forth,” said Sen. Pinckney’s widow, Jennifer Pinckney.

“There is an unfortunate reality in our country, and that is that African Americans have not always seen equal justice in our courts,” said lawyer Mullins McLeod. “This settlement, however, is a beacon for all of us. And a reminder that justice does exist.”

“I am very pleased to hear that the Department of Justice has reached a settlement agreement with the families of the victims of the Mother Emanuel attack,” said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham in a statement. “I have been very supportive of the families’ rights to pursue legal recourse because of the failure of the NICS program to adequately pick up prior offenses of Dylann Roof. I appreciate the efforts of the Attorney General and his team to reach this settlement, and I hope the families of the victims of this horrible deed will find some closure with this settlement.”

The lawsuit: What you need to know

Months before the June 17, 2015 church shooting, Roof was arrested on Feb. 28 by Columbia, South Carolina police on the drug possession charge. But a series of clerical errors and missteps allowed Roof to buy the handgun he later used in the massacre.

The errors included wrongly listing the sheriff’s office as the arresting agency in the drug case, according to court documents. An examiner with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System found some information on the arrest but needed more to deny the sale, so she sent a fax to a sheriff’s office. The sheriff’s office responded it didn’t have the report, directing her to the Columbia police.

Under the system’s operating procedures, the examiner was directed to a federal listing of law enforcement agencies, but Columbia police did not appear on the list. After trying the separate West Columbia Police Department and being told it was the wrong agency, the examiner did nothing more.

After a three-day waiting period, Roof went back to a West Columbia store to pick up the handgun.

The lawsuit for a time was thrown out, with a judge writing that an examiner followed procedures but also blasting the federal government for what he called its “abysmally poor policy choices” in how it runs the national database for firearm background checks. The suit was subsequently reinstated by a federal appeals court.

The FBI and NICS play a crucial role in combatting gun violence. Since the shooting, the FBI has worked to strengthen and improve the background check process, according to the DOJ. The DOJ and FBI are also actively working to combat gun violence, which is a significant aspect of the DOJ’s comprehensive violent crime reduction strategy. After the shooting, the DOJ prosecuted the shooter for federal hate crimes and obtained a conviction.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

(WATCH COVERAGE: $88M settlement reached with survivors, families of those killed in 2015 Charleston church massacre)

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