A federal judge in Santa Ana Monday dismissed a lawsuit filed by relatives of three of the victims killed in the 2015 terrorist attack in San Bernardino, saying the tort claim of negligence is outweighed by the government’s sovereign immunity.
Relatives of shooting victims Nicholas Thalasinos, Sierra Clayborn and Tin Nguyen accused the government of negligence for failing to investigate Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the husband-and-wife jihadis who killed 14 people and wounded two dozen others during a Christmas party at the Inland Regional Center on Dec. 2, 2015.
The plaintiffs alleged that Farook and Malik’s weapons supplier and friend, Enrique Marquez Jr., had ties to Tablighi Jamaat, a global Islamic organization linked to terrorism networks, U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford said in his ruling.
The plaintiffs argued that the government was negligent in failing to investigate the couple to deny them entry into the country, or to provide adequate security to stop them from perpetrating the massacre.
Guilford ruled that such negligence would fall into an exception in constitutional law that prevents such claims. The judge specifically stated that the government can be shielded in such cases because it is “protected by sovereign immunity.”
Guilford noted that the plaintiffs argued officials “should have, but didn’t act on available intelligence,” but, he added, “this is exactly the type of discretionary government function that sovereign immunity protects” because investigations are discretionary, not mandatory.
“The heightened tragic circumstances in this case do not create an exception to the legal principle that private citizens may not sue the government in tort for making discretionary, policy-oriented decisions,” Guilford wrote. “A contrary result would be both legally and politically unworkable. The court’s strongest sympathies lie with the victims of this shooting and their families. But this case lacks a legal foundation to move forward.”
Farook and Malik pledged allegiance to Islamic State before carrying out the IRC rampage, during which they used semiautomatic rifles purchased by Marquez to gun down Farook’s colleagues from the San Bernardino County Department of Environmental Health Services , according to federal investigators.
The pair intended to continue their killing spree but were stopped a few hours later when they were fatally wounded during a gun battle with sheriff’s deputies.
Marquez pleaded guilty in 2017 to providing material support to terrorists and making false accusations in the acquisition of firearms. However, his attorney is scheduled to argue in U.S. District Court in Riverside next month that the plea agreement with the government should be abrogated because the defendant made the admissions without comprehending what he was doing.
Though a charge of immigration fraud against Marquez was dropped in exchange for his plea, three other defendants, including Farook’s older brother, 33-year-old Syed Farook, were federally charged for the bogus marriage into which Marquez entered with Syed Farook’s sister-in-law, 28-year-old Mariya Chernykh.
She, her sister — and Farook’s wife — 34-year-old Tatiana Farook, along with Farook ultimately pleaded guilty to immigration fraud-related counts. They’re all slated to be sentenced later this year.