Texas church shooting lawsuits against Air Force combined

All federal lawsuits against the U.S. Air Force over a Texas church shooting last year that left more than two dozen worshippers dead will be consolidated into one case, a judge says.

Senior U.S. District Judge David Ezra announced Wednesday that the lawsuits will be combined and handled by U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez, the San Antonio Express-News reported. Four lawsuits have been filed so far by victims or their relatives. More are expected.

The lawsuits allege that the Air Force was negligent for failing to report the convictions of gunman Devin Kelley, who opened fire Nov. 5 at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. Kelley later killed himself.

The Air Force admitted shortly after the massacre that the agency failed to report Kelley's past crimes to a federal database, which allowed him to pass a background check and obtain the guns he used in the slaying.

Kelley, an Air Force veteran, had a history of violence. He was discharged in 2014 for bad conduct after he was convicted of beating his first wife and injuring his stepson.

"This court has great sympathy for the victims and their families," Ezra said. "It makes no sense to have these cases spread out."

The lawsuits likely face multiple hurdles, including the doctrine of sovereign immunity that makes it nearly impossible to sue the federal government. But the Federal Tort Claims Act allows individuals to seek damages in limited cases if they can prove direct negligence by the government.

Attorney Jamal Alsaffar is handling three separate lawsuits filed by survivors or their relatives.

"It's been almost a year since this horrible thing happened, and the government has done very little to move this case. In fact, they've done nothing," Alsaffar said. "The quicker we can get the cases together and move forward so that these families' cases can be addressed openly and transparently ... the better."

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Information from: San Antonio Express-News, http://www.mysanantonio.com