Families of victims file lawsuit

Just after 11 a.m. Friday morning, family members of two of the deceased mass shooting victims exited the Ector County Courthouse after they filed a civil lawsuit against a gun parts manufacturer and the person who supplied the AR-style firearm that was used in Odessa’s mass shooting a year ago.

The families of 15-year-old Leilah Hernandez and 40-year-old Joseph Griffith are asking for more than $1 million in damages.

The civil lawsuit was filed against Anderson Manufacturing, a Kentucky-based gun parts manufacturer, and Lubbock gun dealer Marcus Anthony Braziel.

Attorney John Sloan, who is representing the families of Hernandez and Griffith, stated in a press release issued on Thursday: “Our clients want to hold accountable those who manufactured, profited from, and supplied the AR-style weapon used in the shooting.”

Sloan explained further Friday morning that in addition to the monetary damages that he hopes law can be expanded for universal background checks.

“Statistics show that 97 percent of the people in America, that’s counting Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Libertarians, everyone, say there should be universal background checks,” Sloan said. “We believe when the facts of this case come out that it’s going to show that if that law were in effect, this gun sale would have never occurred.”

Carla Byrne, who is one of Joseph Griffith’s sisters, said during the press conference that she has no intention of taking anyone’s gun away. She said that universal background checks could help ensure an attack like this doesn’t happen again.

Byrne detailed that if federal bill H.R.8 had been passed that 36-year-old deceased gunman Seth Aaron Ator would have had to go through a background check when he purchased the AR-style firearm from Braziel.

Ator reportedly failed a background check when he attempted to purchase a firearm in 2014 because he had earlier been adjudicated “a mental defective” and was temporarily committed to an institution.

Ator terrorized Odessans for nearly an hour as he killed seven people and injured 25 others during a shooting spree that began on Interstate 20 in Midland County and ended with him being shot to death by multiple law enforcement agencies at Odessa’s Cinergy Theater.

“None of this will ever bring my brother back,” Byrne said. “… My brother had a life that was stolen from him. I know with 100 percent certainly that I can’t sit idly by and just be sad. I can’t watch on the news anymore kids being killed in schools, anymore people being slaughtered in churches and in synagogues.

“Will I feel better? Will I feel like something positive has changed when H.R.8 passes? Yes. We need that to happen.”

Byrne also answered the response that “a criminal is going to get a gun anyway.”

Byrne explained the criminals will, but if H.R.8 passes, the justice system can prosecute the person who sold the gun without a background check.

“That’s what we are fighting for,” Byrne said. “That’s all we are fighting for.”

The lawsuit was filed three days before the first anniversary of Odessa’s mass shooting.

Sloan said after the news conference that since the lawsuit has been filed that Anderson Manufacturing and Braziel will each be served by certified mail. He said once they are served they have roughly 20 days to answer the lawsuit.

“Hopefully, we will be able to take Braziel’s deposition,” Sloan said. “That’s one of the goals.”

Byrne, the executive director of Career and Technical Education at Ector County Independent School District, said she plans on taking Monday off from work to go out to the golf course.

She explained that Griffith was an avid golfer, and though she admitted she isn’t very good, she wants to spend the day remembering her brother.

“We are going to spend the day thinking about and honoring Joe,” Byrne said.