SAN ANTONIO, Texas (KXAN) — In an ongoing civil lawsuit set to determine how much the federal government will need to pay the victims and family members of the Sutherland Springs mass shooting, U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez ordered the federal government to pay nearly $230 million.
In July, Rodriguez determined the government was 60% liable for the mass shooting that left 26 people dead and 22 others injured, since the gunman had threatened mass violence while in the Air Force. The judge’s ruling aligns with the victims and families who believe the deadly shooting could have been prevented if the military branch had properly reported it.
In the fall, the family members and victims requested around $418 million, and the feds were originally only willing to pay about 10% of that: $31 million.
Lead trial counsel for the victims, Jamal Alsaffar, said the judge’s decision Monday is a step in the right direction.
“While it was not what we asked for we were, we were confident that the judge would reject what the government’s proposal was, which was, I think everyone understood was insulting to the families,” Alsaffar said.
During a hearing in November, the federal government’s argument for only offering $31 million was based on the Federal Tort Claims Act, which is meant for compensation, not punitive rewards.
According to the U.S. defense team, the Sutherland Springs victims’ argument that victims and families are entitled to a higher reward since more people were killed in this mass shooting would be punitive, rather than compensatory.
The federal government also argued the FTCA does not require equal treatment to claimants in settlements.
“From just the legal standpoint, it didn’t make any sense what the government was offering. But then from the from the human standpoint, like I said in my closing argument is, we were all stunned, because there was a sense of inhumanity to it and recognizing what these families went through, and I think that’s reflected in the legal opinion as well,” Alsaffar said Monday, reflecting on the hearing in November.
In November, the federal court heard from victims directly during that hearing, including Juan Macias, who is now bound to a wheelchair due to his injuries. He spoke to his mental health troubles in addition to his physical ones stemming from the tragedy.
The court also heard from a child who had to watch her mom and two sisters die in the church that day.
Payments to each victim or family member are laid out by the judge based on relation, physical harm, mental harm and future expenses and mental anguish. They range from thousands to millions.
“No amount of money fixes what was taken away, and then the way in which it was taken away from these families. I think the word that applies the most is relief, that justice can come for these families. And that with this verdict, I think that what the court has done so well, is to tell these families that what what happened had significance in terms of our country got a bit safer today, our country got safer, because there was accountability for mass gun violence that should have been prevented,” Alsaffar said Monday.
The federal government has 10 days to file objections to this case.