A jury has awarded over $26 million in damages to the plaintiffs in a federal civil suit brought against the organizers of the violent Unite the Right rally that happened back in 2017.
Local residents and counterprotesters that suffered injuries that deadly weekend filed a lawsuit a few months later. The suit named a long list of defendants including well known white nationalists Jason Kessler, Christopher Cantwell, Richard Spencer and multiple alt-right and supremacist groups.
According to USA Today, the jury found the supremacists and neo-Nazis who organized and took part in the rally guilty of four state conspiracy charges of intentions to intimidate, harass and harm. However, they still met a deadlock during deliberations over two counts of federal conspiracy charges to commit racial violence.
From USA Today:
The jurors imposed $500,000 each in punitive damages against several defendants and $1 million each against several organizations on the state conspiracy claim. They limited compensatory damages on that claim to no more than $1 each.
The jury found that lawyers for the plaintiffs proved a claim of racial or religious violence under Virginia law. The panel awarded two plaintiffs $250,000 each in compensatory damages and $200,000 each in punitive damages, to be paid by several defendants.
The jury imposed $12 million in punitive damages against James Alex Fields, a self-professed neo-Nazi who drove a car into the Charlottesville crowd, killing Heather Heyer. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison for the most indelible moment of violence during the rally.
The case represented the latest in a decades-old strategy of plaintiffs using civil lawsuits to hobble hate groups by attacking their finances. It’s unclear whether the Charlottesville defendants would be able to pay.
The split verdict came one day after jurors sent a note to U.S. District Court Judge Norman Moon saying they had been unable to reach unanimous decisions on the federal conspiracy claim.
If you need a reminder of what a real violent protest looks like, the Unite the Right rally took place in Charlottesville, Virginia back in August 2017 when white supremacists lost their minds after the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was approved. The statue was one of several across the South scheduled to be removed in response to the Charleston church shooting in South Carolina in 2015. During the protest, James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car through a group of counterprotesters, injuring many and killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer.
According to CNN, half of the millions in punitive damages were against Fields, who is currently serving multiple life sentences.
Now, the concern is whether the plaintiffs will even see one red cent of the money awarded to them.
Half of the $24 million in punitive damages awarded were against Fields. In addition, the jury awarded punitive damages against Kessler, Spencer and Cantwell at $700,000 each, and Heimbach for $500,000.
Despite the large jury award, there’s the question of whether the plaintiffs will see much of that money. Fields is serving multiple life sentences. Some of the other defendants — individuals and White supremacist organizations — have indicated they are financially stressed.
“The defendants in the case are destitute, none of them have any money,” Smith said. “I don’t know how any of the plaintiffs are going to get anything for any of this.”
“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,” plaintiffs’ attorneys Roberta Kaplan and Karen Dunn said, according to CNN.
Although pleased with the ultimate verdict, the attorneys still plan to re-litigate the two federal conspiracy charges that the jury couldn’t agree on.