A federal judge may be on the verge of dismissing $160 million in civil suits filed after a deadly 1994 shooting rampage at Fairchild Air Force Base.
The federal government is seeking dismissal of 12 lawsuits against the Air Force in U.S. District Court in Spokane.
Senior Judge Justin Quackenbush delayed ruling on the dismissal motion following a court hearing last week.
He told attorneys representing the plaintiffs to come back within four months with specific Air Force rules or regulations that were violated.
If they can’t point to specific violations, the judge may have little choice but to dismiss the suits.
Attorney Mark Vovos, involved in six of the suits, said Friday he’s confident a team of attorneys will be able to come up with specific violations.
The process has been delayed, Vovos said, because of a court order that delayed release of certain Air Force documents sought by the plaintiffs.
Attorneys for the Department of Justice are arguing that Air Force officials were exercising their legal discretion in dealing with airman Dean Mellberg.
Under the Federal Tort Claims Act, lawsuits brought against the U.S. government can be dismissed if government officials accused of negligence were merely carrying out the “discretionary function” of their office.
Mellberg was killed by a security policeman on June 20, 1994, after fatally shooting four people and wounding 22 at the Fairchild Air Force Base hospital.
The plaintiffs’ lawsuits were combined for trial and assigned to Quackenbush.
In the suits, it is alleged that the Air Force was negligent for not recognizing Mellberg’s mental problems shortly after he joined the military.
When Mellberg was stationed at Fairchild in the fall of 1993, he was diagnosed as dangerous by Capt. Alan London, a base psychologist, and Maj. Tom Brigham, an Air Force psychiatrist.
Both were killed during Mellberg’s shooting spree.
At one point, while he was stationed at Fairchild, Mellberg was placed in physical restraints and given psychotropic drugs because of his mental condition.
Despite the diagnosis, Mellberg was sent home and later returned to duty at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico.
After his mental problems reappeared at Cannon, Mellberg was hastily given an honorable discharge and an identification card allowing him access to any base.
Even with the government’s “discretionary function” defense, Vovos said he believes the plaintiffs will be able to prove to the court that the Air Force violated basic negligence principles.