November 14 2008
A Kentucky-based Ku Klux Klan group was ordered on Friday to pay $2.5 million in damages in a judgment that civil rights attorneys hope will bankrupt the chapter.
The Southern Poverty Law Center sued the nation’s second-largest Klan outfit on behalf of a Latino teen severely beaten in 2006 by two Klan members. The Klansmen were convicted and served two years in prison.
A jury on Friday ordered Imperial Klans of America grand wizard Ron Edwards and two former lieutenants to pay 19-year-old Jordan Gruver $1.5 million for lost wages and medical expenses and Edwards to pay $1 million in punitive damages.
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“I’m overwhelmed. I’m victorious,” Gruver said. “And, I’m also sad. I’m sad because those guys are still going to be the same way that they were. That will never change.”
Morris Dees, the lead attorney for the center, said after the verdict he plans to seize Edwards’ property in Dawson Springs that serves as Klan headquarters along with any other assets that can be found. It wasn’t clear what the property is worth.
Earlier, in his closing statement, Dees told jurors that a substantial financial award would stop the Kentucky-based group in its tracks.
“It’s all about the money. It’s all about the money,” said Morris Dees. “If you stop the money, you’ll cut the organization off.”
The heavily tattooed Edwards plans to appeal the verdict. Despite the judgment, Edwards said the KKK will remain active.
“We’re not going away,” Edwards said.
Dees had argued during the civil trial that Edwards’ group incited violence against minorities with racist speeches and “hate metal,” leading to the attack on Gruver. Edwards, who represented himself during the trial, denied the charge and said his group’s not generally violent.
The case was similar to nearly a dozen others brought by the center against hate groups. A similar lawsuit bankrupted the white supremacist group Aryan Nations in Idaho in 1999.
The trial centered on a beating Gruver suffered at the hands of former Klan lieutenants Jarred Hensley and Andrew Watkins. Gruver suffered a broken jaw, bruised ribs and permanent nerve damage to his left arm.
The jury ordered Edwards to pay 20 percent of the compensatory damages, while splitting the remaining 80 percent evenly between Hensley and Watkins. The jury laid the $1 million in punitive damages solely on Edwards. Hensley, who had also represented himself, left the courthouse without commenting.
Watkins reached a confidential settlement with Gruver before the trial that will account for his share of Friday’s judgment.
Jurors deliberated for nearly six-and-a-half hours after a three-day trial at the Meade County Courthouse. As Meade Circuit Judge Bruce Butler read the verdicts, several skinheads in the courtroom shook their heads and looked down.
The judgment against Edwards and Hensley is active for 15 years, giving Gruver and the center time to pursue assets, Dees said.
“No matter what he gets, we’ll get a piece of it,” Dees said.
Gruver, who testified earlier Friday about having nightmares and the extent of his injuries, celebrated the verdict by hugging his mother, Cindy. He then joined his family and left the courthouse under heavy security into a cold rain.