Charleston mass shooting victims can sue U.S. over gun purchase: court

FILE PHOTO: Dylann Roof sits in the court room at the Charleston County Judicial Center to enter his guilty plea on murder charges in state court for the 2015 shooting massacre at a historic black church, in Charleston, South Carolina, U.S., April 10, 2017. REUTERS/Grace Beahm/Pool/File Photo

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – Survivors of a 2015 mass shooting at a South Carolina church can sue the U.S. government over its alleged negligence in allowing Dylann Roof to buy the gun he used to kill nine African-Americans, a federal appeals court said on Friday.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the government was not immune from liability under either the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) or the Brady Act to prevent handgun violence.

Friday’s decision by a three-judge panel revived 16 lawsuits that challenged lapses in how the government vetted prospective gun purchasers, including the FBI’s management of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

William Wilkins, a former chief judge of the 4th Circuit representing the victims, said Congress had charged the FBI with adopting procedures “to stop people like Roof who could obtain assassins’ weapons” from doing so.

“The government has to do what the law requires,” Wilkins said in an interview. “It failed to do that in this case.”

Roof, a white supremacist, had been admitted to a Bible study session at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston on June 17, 2015, where he then used his .45-caliber Glock semiautomatic pistol in the shooting.

Victims said a proper background check would have shown that Roof had recently admitted to drug possession, which would have disqualified him from buying the gun from a federally licensed dealer two months earlier.

Chief Judge Roger Gregory wrote for the Richmond, Virginia-based appeals court that no one disputed that a proper check would have stopped Roof.

But he said U.S. District Judge Richard Gergel in Charleston was wrong to dismiss the lawsuits on immunity grounds in June 2018, even as Gergel faulted the government’s “abysmally poor policy choices” in managing the background check system.

Gregory said the case turned on the NICS examiner’s alleged negligence in disregarding mandatory procedures. “The government can claim no immunity in these circumstances,” he wrote.

Circuit Judge G. Steven Agee partially dissented, saying the government was not immune from Brady Act claims, but that Gergel properly dismissed the FTCA case.

Roof, now 25, was sentenced to death in January 2017 after being convicted on 33 federal counts related to the shooting, including hate crimes. He pleaded guilty three months later to state murder charges, and was sentenced to nine consecutive life terms without parole.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler and Alistair Bell)

Notre Dame fire may have been caused by power fault or cigarette: prosecutors

The Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral is pictured after the first mass since the devastating fire in April, in Paris, France, June 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

PARIS (Reuters) – An electrical fault or a burning cigarette may have been responsible for the fire that gutted Notre-Dame Cathedral, French authorities investigating the cause of April’s blaze said on Wednesday.

Paris prosecutors said that, while they were investigating the possibility of negligence, they currently had no reason to believe the fire was started deliberately.

It ripped through the medieval cathedral on April 15, destroying the roof, toppling the spire and almost bringing down the main bell towers and outer walls before firefighters brought it under control.

“If certain failings, which may explain the scale of the fire, have been brought to light, the investigations carried out to this date have not yet been able to determine the causes of the fire,” said a statement from Paris prosecutor Remy Heitz.

“For now, there are no indications of a criminal origin,” he added. However, nothing had been ruled out, with an electrical fault and a cigarette that was not properly extinguished two of several possible causes being investigated, he said.

President Emmanuel Macron has set a target of five years for restoring Notre-Dame, which dates back to the 12th century and is one of Europe’s most iconic landmarks.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Geert de Clercq and John Stonestreet)

Ex-deputy charged for not responding to Florida school shooting remains in jail: judge

Former Broward County sheriff's deputy Scot Peterson appears via video feed from the Broward County jail in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., June 5, 2019. Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Pool via REUTERS

(Reuters) – The former Florida sheriff’s deputy criminally charged for his lack of response to the 2018 mass shooting at a Parkland high school that left 17 dead will remain in jail on $102,000 bond, a bail court judge ordered on Wednesday.

Scot Peterson, 56, was arrested Tuesday on 11 charges of neglect and negligence for remaining outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School during the attack. He was booked into the Broward County jail.

Peterson, who lives in North Carolina, is the first police officer to be criminally charged for his response to an active shooter situation, his attorney, Joseph DiRuzzo, said.

Felony and misdemeanor charges against Peterson include seven counts of child neglect, three counts of culpable negligence and one count of perjury.

Peterson was a Broward County deputy on duty as a school resource officer when Nikolas Cruz, 19, allegedly entered the school building on Feb. 14, 2018, and opened fire. At the time, Peterson was the only armed guard on the campus in Parkland, Florida.

Seventeen students and staffers were killed and 17 were wounded.

Cruz, a student who had been expelled from the school, was arrested and is awaiting trial on multiple murder charges.

A lengthy investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement found that after hearing gunshots ring out, Peterson, who was trained to immediately confront an active shooter, failed to investigate their source and retreated to take cover, according to his arrest warrant.

“Had this individual done his job, lives would have been saved,” said U.S. Senator Rick Scott, who was governor of Florida when the shooting happened.

Three weeks after the shooting, Scott signed into law a bill imposing a 21-year-old legal age requirement and three-day waiting period on all gun purchases and allowing the arming of some school employees.

Peterson has insisted he responded properly by notifying police and assisting a school lockdown. He told the Washington Post, “It just happened, and I started reacting.”

Peterson resigned a week after the shooting. Broward County Sheriff Gregory Tony said on Tuesday he had fired Peterson and another deputy, Brian Miller, saying they had neglected their duties during the shooting.

(Reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Trott)