MIAMI, FLORIDA— The family of a victim in the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard accused two federal government agencies of negligence on Friday in a wrongful death claim seeking $37.5 million in damages.
Mary Delorenzo Knight, a 51-year-old computer scientist, was among 12 people killed in the September shooting spree when a gunman with security clearance entered the military installation and opened fire on civilian workers.
Knight's family alleges in the claim that the Department of the Navy and the Department of Veterans Affairs failed to revoke the access of Aaron Alexis after a series of red flags about his mental health. Alexis was killed by police in a gun battle.
Justin Givens, a lawyer for the family in Tallahasse, Florida, cited Alexis' run-ins with police and his history of mental illness to argue the government agencies should have acted on the information.
“It's a colossal failure on the part of multiple agencies that led to a national tragedy,” he said. “Mr. Alexis not only had a history of mental illness but was involved in gun crimes, and here you have an individual who is given clearance to be on U.S. military facilities.”
In a 33-page administrative claim, the filing details three occasions when Alexis, a former Navy reservist who worked as an information technology contractor, was arrested.
The claim also criticizes the handling of his clearance by the government and the defense contractor who employed him.
Alexis was a contract employee for the Defense Department and received a “secret” clearance in 2008 despite several violent incidents, including a 2004 arrest in Seattle for shooting out a car's tires. The case was never prosecuted, and in a 2010 shooting incident was ruled accidental.
A “secret” clearance is a mid-level security classification that allows the holder access to classified information which could be damaging to national security if released. It falls below the “top-secret” clearance, which requires more frequent background examinations.
In the wake of the shooting, the security clearance process has come under scrutiny on Capitol Hill, where senators are examining the government's procedures for conducting background checks.
The Pentagon said it would review security at military installations around the world and the White House promised to review standards for federal government contractors.
The administrative claim was filed on behalf of Knights two daughters and her sister, who lives in Florida. Each is seeking $12.5 million in damages. The claim is the initial step to a formal lawsuit being filed in federal court.