FederalIssuesBiden Administration Appeals Order Requiring Government Payments to Sutherland Springs Victims, Families

The Biden administration called the ordered payment awards "enlarged" and proposed a smaller judgment amount.
June 8, 2022
The Biden administration has appealed an order requiring the federal government to pay damages to relatives of the Sutherland Springs shooting victims.

The federal government sent a notice on Monday that it would appeal the case to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Fifth Circuit docketed the case yesterday.

In 2017, a former airman went on a killing spree at a church in Sutherland Springs. Joe and Claryce Holcombe, who lost nine family members in the shooting, sued the federal government for negligence.

The shooter had a court-martial conviction on his record for assaulting his wife and stepson and was committed to a mental institution by the Air Force. For these reasons, federal law prohibited him from owning a firearm. However, the Air Force and Department of Defense failed to report his criminal conviction and institutionalization to the FBI’s database, allowing the shooter to clear a background check when he purchased his weapon.

The district court judge in this lawsuit, federal judge Xavier Rodriguez, already found in July that the U.S. government was “60% responsible” for the shooting.

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Rodriguez determined cash awards for survivors of the shooting and relatives of the slain in February. In April, he entered an official judgment based on those conclusions.

The federal government is appealing that judgment, which requires the government to pay $230 million to the victims and their families.

Some of these awards would go to the estates of churchgoers killed in the massacre. One victim, JoAnn Ward, was a mother of four who died trying to shield her children from attack. Her family could only identify her body afterward by her tattoos.

Other awards would go to survivors. JoAnn’s stepson, who was five years old at the time of the shooting, suffered gunshot wounds to the arm, groin, buttock, and leg. According to the court document, this left him with an “unreconstructable” left femur. As a result, his legs have grown unevenly and his chances of having children naturally have been stunted.

The Fifth Circuit has not yet scheduled any upcoming dates for the case.

The federal government argued in a March 4 court document that the plaintiffs arrived at the final $230 million figure without following proper court procedure, introducing new evidence and analysis beyond the scope of the court’s instructions.


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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.