Jury in Charlottesville ‘Unite the Right’ trial reaches partial verdict

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Charlottesville, VA — Nine people were injured during 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in downtown Charlottesville are entitled to financial compensation, a jury announced Tuesday arriving at a partial verdict. But it could not agree on the most serious claims that the defendants – about two dozen white supremacists, neo-Nazis and prominent organizers – were involved in a conspiracy to commit violence under federal law.

Jury of 11 deliberates more than three days after four weeks of testimony Civil trial in a federal court in Charlottesville. The plaintiffs, all from Charlottesville, described broken bones, bloodshed and emotional trauma as a result of the devastation. The defendants, some self-described racists and white nationalists, argued that they were exercising their First Amendment rights by organizing and participating in the rally.

The case, known as Signes v. Kessler, was the first major lawsuit in years to be prosecuted under the so-called. Ku Klux Klan Act, a rarely used federal law codified after the Civil War. It was established to reduce the power of white supremacists and to protect African Americans, prohibit discrimination for voting and other rights.

In making its decision, the jury was to find that the defendants, including Jason Kessler, the rally’s principal organizer, and Richard Spencer, a white nationalist who coined the term “alt-right”, plotted to commit violence. But the jury was deadlocked in the first two claims of federal race-based “conspiracy to interfere with civil rights” and “action to prevent neglect.”

The jury also agreed on a number of punitive damages on other claims, including assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress, awarding more than $25 million to the plaintiffs.

On the claim that the defendants violated Virginia’s civil conspiracy law, the jury awarded $500,000 in punitive damages against all 12 individual defendants, including Kessler and Spencer, and $1 million against five white nationalist organizations.

Clash at the “Unite the Right” rally on August 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, VA.Evelyn Hawkstein / The Washington Post via Getty Images File

Among the evidence were text messages, social media posts and conversations on Discord, an online chat platform in which organizers discussed and carefully coordinated the two-day event, in response to Charlottesville’s plan to remove a statue of Confederate leader Robert E. was conducted. Took. When the protest turned deadly James Alex Fields Jr., an Ohio man revered by Hitler rammed his car into the crowd, murder of heather heyer, a civil rights activist. Dozens including four plaintiffs were also injured in the car attack.

Fields, who is serving a life sentence in prison, was named as a defendant in the trial. The jury agreed that it would pay $12 million in punitive damages in connection with the assault.

The trial included explicit audio of the use of anti-Semitic and racial slurs in conversation by some of the defendants, which Kessler testified was often provocative. The jurors also heard messages filled with “insider language and code” that expert witnesses said white nationalists use to incite participants in the “alt-right” movement.

Plaintiff’s attorney Roberta Kaplan asked jurors to consider paying millions of dollars in punitive damages: $7 million to $10 million for those who caused physical harm and $3 million to $3 for emotional pain. up to 5 million.

The suit is funded by Integrity First for America, a non-profit civil rights organization that applauded the jury’s decision, despite its partial verdict.

“We think justice is done today,” Karen Dunn, another attorney for the plaintiffs, told reporters. “There’s going to be accountability for the people who do this.”

“I think today’s decision is a message that this country does not tolerate violence based on racial and religious hatred in any form,” Kaplan said. He said he was not disappointed with the result.

“Everyone wanted to go home for Thanksgiving, we understand. As do we,” Kaplan said.

Randolph McLaughlin, a professor at the Haub School of Law at Pace University, who successfully used the Ku Klux Klan Act in a Civil Trials in Tennessee in the 1980s, said defendants in these cases usually don’t have deep pockets, so it’s not necessarily about money.

“You’re not suing to make a dime,” he said. “You’re suing them for bankruptcy.”

Long-pending civil trial in Charlottesville turns out to be high-profile criminal Trial in Kenosha, Wisconsin, And Brunswick, Georgia, also grabbed national attention, feeding into larger conversations and politicizing about extremism and racial justice.

During the trial, Spencer tried to distance himself from the rally, telling the jury that he had no part in the plan, being tied to a tiki torch display the night before that incident, despite people shouting “Jews replaced us.” Will not” on the University of Virginia campus.

Gary Grumbach reported from Charlottesville and Eric Ortiz from New York.