Charlottesville jury awards over $24 million in damages in ‘Unite the Right’ trial

Virginia News

James Fields, perpetrator of deadly car attack, found liable for over $12 million in damages

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WRIC) — A jury found defendants in the federal lawsuit related to the Unite the Right rally in 2017 liable for four out of the six claims against them, but were unable to reach a verdict on the remaining two claims.

The jury found all two dozen defendants liable for civil conspiracy and racial, religious or ethnic harassment. They also found James Alex Fields, Jr., the perpetrator of a deadly car attack, liable for assault and battery and infliction of emotional harm against several of the defendants, claims for which they were cumulatively awarded $12 million in punitive damages.

“Justice was served today. There’s going to be accountability for the people who did this,” said attorney for the plaintiffs, Karen Dunn. “The jury found a conspiracy to commit violence on the streets of Charlottesville as to each and every defendant.”

The largest portions of money were awarded for punitive damages. 12 individuals were ordered to pay $500,000 each while five white nationalist organizations were assessed $1 million each.

“No one will ever bring violence to the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia ever again because they now know what will happen if they do,” Roberta Kaplan, another attorney for the plaintiffs, said.

The Jury failed to reach a verdict on the first and second federal claims, which alleged defendants engaged in or failed to stop a conspiracy to “commit racially motivated violence.” Judge Norman K. Moon read a note from the jury about the two claims. “We are deadlocked and we do not believe that will change,” Judge Norman K. Moon said.

Before dismissing the Jury, Moon asked, “Is there any juror who thinks further deliberations will help you reach a verdict?”

When none spoke up, Moon said he would excuse the jury. Kaplan and Dunn said they do plan on bringing claims one and two back to court in the near future.

The following damages were awarded:

  • Claim 3 – $11 million in punitive damages awarded; each individual defendant ordered to pay $500,000, each organization ordered to pay $1 million
  • Claim 4 – $500,000 in compensatory damages awarded to Natalie Romero and Devin Willis; $1 million total in punitive damages awarded against five defendants
  • Claims 5 and 6 – The jury assessed $1,504,736 in compensatory damages against James Alex Fields, Jr., intended to pay for medical costs, lost wages, and other damage suffered as a result of the car attack; the jury also assessed $12 million total in punitive damages, $6 million for each claim

Among the defendants were prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer, convicted felon Christopher Cantwell, rally organizer Jason Kessler, members of the League of the South, and other participants in the “Unite the Right” rally.

James Kolenich represents three of the of the defendants, including Kessler. “I think we did a decent job on the defense side, cutting the damages down to size even though it is many millions of dollars,” he told reporters outside the courthouse.

The federal lawsuit alleged two dozen white nationalists and white supremacist organizations, including Richard Spencer and the Ku Klux Klan, organizations conspired to commit violence during the rally. During this rally, James Fields drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, which killed Heather Heyer and injured others in the chaos.

Jury deliberations continued on Monday and Tuesday after they didn’t reach a verdict after the first day of deliberations on Friday, Nov. 19.

The jury was given 47 pages of instructions with standards that they need to consider when reaching a verdict. They were instructed not to discuss them with anyone else.

Below are the six claims the jury was considering:

  • claim 1 in the Charlottesville trial
  • claim 2 in the Charlottesville trial

The jury had trouble with claims one, two and three on Monday, which extended the trial into Tuesday.

Lawyers for the far-right organizers said they will be trying to reduce the price tag on damages and that they don’t know how their clients will come up with the funds. “The defendants in this case are destitute. None of them have any money,” said Joshua Smith, who represented Matthew Heimbach, Matthew Parrott and the Traditionalist Worker Party, a neo-Nazi group.

“Some of these organizations have assets, likely. I don’t think any of them can afford to pay out of pocket,” Kolenich said.

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