Jury Held Defendants Liable for Conspiring to Deprive Minorities and Their Supporters of Their Civil Rights; Awarded Substantial Compensatory and Punitive Damages Against Each Defendant
Sines v Kessler Verdict Sends Powerful Message: There Will be Accountability for Violent Hate
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA – Today, nine plaintiffs consisting of students, clergy, peaceful protestors, and innocent bystanders -- who were victims of a coordinated attack by white supremacists during what was called “Unite the Right” in August 2017 -- won a historic victory against the white supremacist groups and individuals who conspired for months to bring violence to the streets of Charlottesville.
Following a month-long trial in the Western District of Virginia, the 11-person jury decided that the defendants had engaged in a conspiracy to commit violence and intimidation that was illegal. The verdict held defendants jointly and severally liable for conspiring to deprive minorities and their supporters of their civil rights.
Integrity First for America, a civil rights nonprofit, has supported the plaintiffs in their legal battle over the last four years.
The evidence introduced at trial showed that the defendants, many of whom were admirers of Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich, coordinated and executed a plan to spark a “race war” in Charlottesville with the ultimate goal of creating a “white ethnostate.”
The plaintiffs, each of whom testified and were cross examined at length stood up that weekend against hate and supported their community. All of the plaintiffs were injured as a direct result of the conspiracy the defendants planned and executed, including at the torch rally on the UVA campus on the night of August 11 and during the chaos that followed on the streets of Charlottesville the next day. They were pushed, kicked, punched, and pepper sprayed by participants in the conspiracy. The next day, seven of the plaintiffs were injured in the car attack perpetrated by defendant James Fields. While some of the plaintiffs’ severe physical injuries will ultimately heal over time, the same is not true with respect to the psychological harm they suffered from the trauma they experienced.
The defendants who were the leaders, promoters, and foot soldiers (as well as their affiliated organizations) of Unite the Right, including many prominent figures in the so-called “alt right,” such as Jason Kessler, the local organizer of the Unite the Right rally; Richard Spencer, a prominent white nationalist and leader of the white nationalist National Policy Institute; Christopher Cantwell, who was convicted for assaulting counter-protestors on August 11; James Alex Fields, Jr., who is serving life sentences on state and federal charges, including for the death of Heather Heyer; and more.
The Sines v. Kessler lawsuit, filed on October 11, 2017, by founding partner of Kaplan Hecker & Fink Roberta A. Kaplan and co-lead counsel and Paul Weiss partner Karen L. Dunn, was supported by pro bono legal teams from Kaplan Hecker & Fink, Paul, Weiss, and Cooley LLP. The vicious attacks on innocent protestors during the Unite the Right march in Charlottesville, V.A in August 2017, killing Heather Heyer and harming dozens of others, including these plaintiffs, sparked global attention.
The plaintiffs include April Muñiz, Chelsea Alvarado, Devin Willis, Elizabeth Sines, Marcus Martin, Marissa Blair, Natalie Romero, Reverend Seth Wispelwey, and Thomas Baker.
Following the decision, the plaintiffs said: “It has been a long four years since we first brought this case. Today, we can celebrate the jury’s verdict finally holding defendants like Jason Kessler, Richard Spencer and Christopher Cantwell accountable for what they did to us and to everyone else in the Charlottesville community who stood up against hate in August 2017. Our single greatest hope is that today’s verdict will encourage others to feel safer raising our collective voices in the future to speak up for human dignity and against white supremacy.”
Co-lead counsels Roberta A. Kaplan and Karen L. Dunn said: “We are thrilled that the jury has delivered a verdict in favor of our plaintiffs, finally giving them the justice they deserve after the horrific weekend of violence and intimidation in August 2017. The evidence was overwhelming that leaders of the white supremacist movement from all around the country planned for months to bring violence and intimidation to the streets of Charlottesville and that our brave clients, among many others, were injured when they dared to stand up for their values. Today’s 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.”
Integrity First for America Executive Director Amy Spitalnick said: “This case has sent a clear message: violent hate won’t go unanswered. There will be accountability. These judgments underscore the major financial, legal, and operational consequences for violent hate -- even beyond the significant impacts this case has already had. And at a moment of rising extremism, major threats to our democracy, and far too little justice, this case has provided a model for accountability. This trial also allowed our plaintiffs to tell the full, horrific story of Unite the Right -- and exposed the hateful, violent tactics at the core of how the white supremacist movement operates. There are not sufficient words to describe the honor of supporting these courageous plaintiffs.”
Integrity First for America (IFA) is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization dedicated to holding those accountable who threaten longstanding principles of our democracy—including our country's commitment to civil rights and equal justice. IFA spearheaded the landmark federal lawsuit against the two dozen neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and hate groups responsible for the August 2017 violence in Charlottesville. To learn more about the case, click here.