A federal jury has ordered the white supremacist leaders and groups who backed the fatal march in Charlottesville, Virginia, to pay more than $25 million in damages to nine plaintiffs, four years after “Unite the Right” was organised there.
The rally began as a demonstration against the removal of a prominent statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, but it quickly turned deadly when James Alex Fields Jr., a self-described Hitler admirer, drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring several others. Fields was later found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
The 11-person jury in the case of Sines v. Kessler reached a decision on the third day of deliberations. Plaintiffs in the civil lawsuit had originally requested that the jury consider awards of $7 million to $10 million for physical injuries and $3 million to $5 million for pain and suffering.
Despite the $25 million verdict, the jury announced that it was deadlocked on the first two federal accusations of a conspiracy motivated by prejudice against Black or Jewish people.
The two unresolved federal claims in the civil complaint, which was filed in 2017, were based on the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, a rarely utilised post-Civil War law. Private persons can sue other citizens for civil rights abuses including conspiring to infringe on others’ civil rights under the law.
The fight isn’t done, according to Integrity First for America, a civil rights organisation that has backed the plaintiffs in their years-long legal battle.
In a statement released Tuesday, Executive Director Amy Spitalnick stated, “Our team is determined to holding these defendants accountable.” “We’ll be pursuing default judgments against seven more defendants that our plaintiffs obtained.”
The East Coast Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Fraternal Order of the Alt-Knights, Nationalist Front, Moonbase Holdings, LLC, Andrew Anglin, and Augustus Sol Invictus are among the prospective defendants.
The verdict “sends a loud and clear message that facts matter, the law matters, and that the laws of this country will not tolerate the use of violence to deprive racial and religious minorities of the basic right we all share to live as free and equal citizens,” said Roberta A. Kaplan and Karen L. Dunn, lawyers for one of the plaintiffs, in a joint statement following the jury’s decision.
“At a time when extremism is on the rise and democracy is under attack, this case serves as a paradigm for accountability,” said Spitalnick.
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