KILLEEN, Texas (CN) — Surviving family members of a 2015 shooting rampage outside Fort Hood say the Army failed to protect a battered spouse and her neighbors from her abusive husband, who should not have been able to obtain the gun he used in the murders.
Karin Kristensen, Michael Farina and Christina Guzman sued the United States in Federal Court on behalf of the estates of Dawn Larson Giffa, Lydia Farina and Steven Guzman, and their six surviving minor children.
In February 2015, Spc. (Specialist) Atase Giffa was living off-base with his wife, Dawn Giffa, and her son K.L. in Killeen. Dawn and K.L. were Canadian citizens and lawful U.S. residents. Giffa was about to be transferred to Georgia, but Dawn wanted to stay in Killeen to finish nursing school.
“Spc. Giffa took this news poorly,” the lawsuit says. On Feb. 9 Giffa took Dawn’s and K.L.’s passports and identification cards, plus Dawn’s credit cards and money. In a subsequent argument, neighbors saw him slam Dawn against their truck and hold her down by the wrists. The neighbors noticed red marks on Dawn where Giffa had grabbed her, thrown her, and restrained her, according to the complaint.
The neighbors called Killeen police, who declined to arrest Giffa, since he was a soldier assigned to an Army unit at Fort Hood. They told Dawn to call the military police at Fort Hood, and Giffa’s military commander.
Under Army policy on spousal and child abuse, each Army base is required to create and enter into a Memorandum of Agreement with local law enforcement to define responsibilities when responding to cases of domestic abuse. “It is not discretionary whether the base will enter into an MOA with adjoining jurisdictions,” the complaint states. But that apparently never happened at Killeen and Fort Hood.
“(D)uring the decades that Fort Hood has been in existence, as the largest Army base in the world, a practice has developed that when soldiers are involved in criminal behavior outside of the installation that would otherwise come under the jurisdiction of civilian police and courts, military authorities will assume responsibility for the investigation and ultimate disposition of the matter. Civilian authorities will defer to the soldiers’ military commanders, their senior enlisted advisers, and the military police and judicial systems,” the complaint states.
After Killeen police left the Giffa residence, Dawn and K.L. went across the street to the home of their neighbors Michael and Lydia Farina, seeking refuge. Killeen police had told Dawn the incident would be reported to commanders at Fort Hood and would be handled by them.
On the morning of Feb. 10, Dawn called Giffa’s commander at Fort Hood and told him about the domestic abuse the previous night. The commander told Dawn that Army personnel would remove Giffa from their home, put him on 48-hour watch, place him in the barracks at Fort Hood for seven days and issue a restraining order, or no-contact order, preventing him from coming within 500 feet of Dawn, her son and their residence.
Military personnel were unable to locate the identification cards, credit cards and other documents that Giffa had taken from Dawn and K.L., and the Army allegedly refused to search Giffa’s vehicle, though Dawn gave them permission to do so. The commander told Dawn on Feb. 12 that Giffa had 48 hours to return her documents or the Army would arrest him.
On Feb. 13, she received a phone call from the commander that her identification and documents were in her house. On Feb. 14, Dawn and the Farinas twice saw Giffa driving less than 500 feet from their residence, in violation of the no-contact order. Dawn reported the violation to the commander, who said he would bring him in to find out why he had driven near the residence.
But on Feb. 15, Giffa was again seen driving less than 500 feet from the Giffa home and Dawn and K.L. “Nothing was apparently done about this violation of the no-contact order. Violations of the no-contact order should have been put in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database to have been shared with the Killeen Police Department, among other police and law enforcement agencies, and would have shown up in a NICS background search when Spc. Giffa purchased his handgun at the pawn shop and ammunition at Wal-Mart,” the lawsuit states.
The next day, Dawn was called to Fort Hood for a family counseling session, where she met with Giffa and an Army counselor. After the meeting, Dawn was told that Giffa would be released the following Wednesday.
“In response to this statement, Dawn said that she told the Army counselor: ‘If you release him, he will kill me.’ Dawn expressed the belief that no one at Fort Hood was doing anything to help her situation and that she was in fear for her life in spite of the fact that she was going through all the steps that the Army required,” the complaint states.
It continues: “At no time during the week after Dawn reported domestic violence against her did the Army notify Dawn Larson Giffa that she was could qualify for financial and logistical support from the Army in relocating to temporary housing away from her abuser. At no time did the Army offer to move Dawn Larson Giffa and K.L. to a hotel or motel in the area, away from Spc. Giffa, to put space between Dawn Larson Giffa and Spc. Giffa, and keep her location secret from him. This financial and logistical support is required to be offered by the Army in domestic violence cases. …
“During this time, Dawn and K.L. were living with the Farinas, next door to the Farina’s relatives, the Guzmans, who were all protecting Dawn. This was directly across the street from the Giffa home, and at a place where SPC Giffa knew where Dawn was and knew who was providing her shelter. …
“Further, under the Fort Hood Commanding General’s Policy Letter No. 3, the Army was required to determine if Spc. Giffa was at risk of suicide or causing harm to others. Under the policy letter, the Commander was required to ask the soldier if he or she possessed any firearms or intended to procure any firearms. The Army did not do so.”
Giffa was released from Fort Hood on Feb. 18. Four days later, he went to the Farina home and asked Dawn to come home. She refused, saying she needed some space and time.
Giffa went home to get a gun he had just bought at a pawn shop, and ammunition he had bought from Wal-Mart. He returned to the Farina home and started shooting.
Spc. Giffa shot at Michael Farina’s head, only missing because Michael Farina slipped as Spc. Giffa was pulling the trigger. Spc. Giffa then chased Michael Farina outside, shooting at Michael Farina repeatedly,” the complaint states. “Spc. Giffa then returned to the Farina house and encountered Lydia Farina and shot her in the head, killing her in her home and covering Dawn’s son, K.L. with blood. Spc. Giffa then found Dawn and took her outside on the lawn and beat her mercilessly. Dawn was screaming and begging for him to stop. Steven and Tina Guzman heard the beating and came outside to try to save Dawn. Spc. Giffa saw them and fled. Steven Guzman picked up Dawn and carried her back into the Farina home.”
Giffa returned to the Farinas’ home and shot Tina Guzman in the face and in the neck, causing extensive damage and trauma. Steven saw his wife being shot. Despite her concern for Steven, Tina tried to walk home to save her daughters while bleeding profusely.
Giffa then went into the Farina house and shot Steven once in the body and once in the side of his head, but he did not die right away. The two Farina sons and K.L. went to hide in a bedroom with the Farinas’ daughters. Giffa then concluded his rampage.
“Spc. Giffa then dragged Dawn from the Farina lawn, across the street into the Giffa home. The Killeen Police had been called by someone and alerted to Spc. Giffa’s rampage. The KPD SWAT team arrived and eventually entered the Giffa home where they found Dawn tortured to death by three shots to her torso, one in each arm, and a fatal gunshot to the head. They found Spc. Giffa dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound,” the complaint states.
The guardians say the Army had a duty to protect Dawn from Giffa, and that the duty extended to Lydia Farina, Christina Guzman and Steven Guzman, who were injured or killed trying to protect her.
“The Army undertook a duty to protect Dawn Larson Giffa through its specifically enunciated domestic violence programs, and then negligently implemented those programs, negating to do myriad actions they were required to do,” according to the complaint.
The Army said it does not comment on ongoing litigation. The families seek damages for wrongful death, lost earnings, pain and suffering, loss of consortium, and medical expenses.
Their lead attorney is Joseph Schreiber with Schreiber Knockaert in Houston.