Sells v. Berry
Threatened by the Klan
Television reporter George Sells and camerawoman Heidi Thiel testified that they feared for their lives when Jeff Berry, the leader of the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, became angry at the end of an interview at his home and demanded their interview tapes. When they refused to hand them over, Berry ordered his followers to block the exits and would not let them leave.
After another Klansman entered the room with a shotgun and pumped the weapon, the terrified journalists relinquished the tapes.
Center attorneys filed a civil lawsuit against Berry in January 2000 for violating the civil rights of the journalists.
Sells and Thiel said they were shaking uncontrollably after their ordeal and that they were plagued by feelings of fear, nervousness and paranoia for months following the incident. Thiel reported that she was unable to be alone in her own home for more than a week after the assault.
The civil suit garnered a $120,000 judgment against the leader of the group that was considered at that time to be one of the most aggressive Klan groups in the country.
As a direct result of the Center's suit, Berry was prosecuted for his actions. In 2001, Berry pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit criminal confinement with a deadly weapon and was sentenced to seven years in prison.
04/20/2000: Default entered
12/29/2000: Judgment for the plaintiffs
11/20/2001: Judgment upheld by the USCA