11/14/2008

SPLC Wins $2.5 Million Verdict Against Imperial Klans of America

SPLC founder and chief trial attorney Morris Dees holds the IKA secret handbook as he questions Klan leader Ron Edwards.

The Southern Poverty Law Center today won a crushing jury verdict against one of the nation's largest Klan groups for its role in the brutal beating of a teenager at a county fair in rural Kentucky.

The $2.5 million verdict will likely cripple the Imperial Klans of America, which has 16 chapters in eight states.

"The people of Meade County, Kentucky, have spoken loudly and clearly. And what they've said is that ethnic violence has no place in our society, that those who promote hate and violence will be held accountable and made to pay a steep price," said SPLC founder and chief trial attorney Morris Dees, who tried the case. "We look forward to collecting every dime that we can for our client and to putting the Imperial Klans of America out of business."

The SPLC brought the lawsuit on behalf of Jordan Gruver, who was 16 when he was attacked in July 2006.

The jury deliberated for nearly seven hours before delivering the verdict against IKA Imperial Wizard Ron Edwards and two former IKA members, Jarred Hensley and Andrew Watkins, both of whom served two years in state prison for assaulting Gruver. The SPLC earlier reached settlements with Watkins and one other Klansman.

The verdict included $1.5 million in compensatory damages — apportioned among Edwards, Hensley and Watkins — and $1 million in punitive damages against Edwards.

The SPLC argued in court that Edwards and the IKA incited the racial hatred that led to the attack at the Meade County Fair in Brandenburg in July 2006.

Several Klansmen were at the fair on a recruiting mission when they spotted Gruver, who is a U.S. citizen of Panamanian descent. They threw whisky in his face and called him a "spic." Gruver, who stood 5-foot-3 and weighed just 150 pounds at the time, was surrounded, beaten to the ground and kicked by the Klansmen, one of whom was 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds. He was left with a broken jaw and arm, two cracked ribs and multiple cuts. He now suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome and has permanent arm and jaw injuries.

The attack on Gruver is symptomatic of a rising tide of hate and violence directed toward Latinos in the United States. The SPLC has documented at 48 percent rise in the number of hate groups since 2000 — an increase fueled by the anti-immigration furor. Recent FBI statistics show a 40 percent increase in hate crimes targeting Latinos between 2003 and 2007.

During the trial, the SPLC demonstrated how the IKA and Edwards fostered an atmosphere of hate and violence. The IKA's compound in Dawson Springs, Ky., is home to Nordic Fest, an annual music festival that brings together Klansmen, skinheads and members of other violent hate groups.

Former Klansman Kale Kelly testified at the trial that Edwards instructed him to kill Dees during the SPLC's lawsuit against the Aryan Nations in the late 1990s. Kelly said he planned to track Dees in Idaho, where the trial was held, and that Edwards would supply the weapon. But in April 1999, within days of the plot being executed, an FBI undercover operation foiled the plan. Kelly served time in federal prison on weapons charges. Edwards was never charged.

Over the past 25 years, the SPLC has crippled some of the nation's largest and most violent hate groups by helping victims of racial violence sue for monetary damages. Its victories include a $7 million verdict against the United Klans of America in 1987 for the lynching of Michael Donald in Mobile, Ala.; a $12.4 million verdict against the White Aryan Resistance in 1990 for the brutal murder of an Ethiopian student in Portland; and a $6.3 million verdict against the Aryan Nations in 2000 that forced the organization to give up its 20-acre compound in Idaho.

Trial Updates on the Hatewatch Blog

$2.5 Million Verdict

Teen Describes Beating in Final Day of Testimony

Witness Details Plot to Kill Dees

Testimony Begins, Steel-Toed Boots Introduced