BRANDENBURG, Ky. — A teenager gave an emotional account of his assault by Klansmen during the final day of testimony in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s trial against the Imperial Klans of America.
Jordan Gruver, who was 16 when he was attacked by IKA members at the Meade County Fair, told the jury that he was about to buy a drink from a concession stand when several Klansmen called him a “s---,” spat at him and threw whiskey in his face. Then Klansman Jarred Hensley struck a blow to his jaw that knocked him off his feet. Gruver showed the jury how he curled up in a fetal position and tried to protect his head with his arms. While he lay on the ground, Klansmen kicked him with steel-toed boots.
“As they were kicking me, I prayed to myself,” Gruver said, breaking down on the witness stand. “I said, ‘God, just let me make it home. Please let me make it home.’”
Today the case went to the jury for a decision after the SPLC presented its final witnesses and the defense declined to offer testimony. The SPLC sued IKA leader Ron Edwards of Dawson Springs, Ky., in civil court, contending that members of his Klan group attacked and severely injured Gruver because they mistakenly thought he was an illegal immigrant. Also named as a defendant was Jarred Hensley of Cincinnati, who served nearly three years in state prison for assaulting Gruver in July 2006.
During today’s testimony, two medical doctors described Gruver’s injuries, which included a busted jaw, a fractured arm and broken teeth. He has weakness and impaired fine motor coordination in his left hand that will likely be permanent. Both doctors said the assault caused him to develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a mental condition that can result from traumatic events. Symptoms of his PTSD include nightmares, flashbacks, difficulty sleeping and hyper-vigilance. Although he was prescribed an anti-depressant, Gruver has become so withdrawn socially that he cannot attend school or work.
But the most powerful testimony came from Gruver himself. Before the attack, he was a high school athlete who loved to play piano, an instrument he learned from his paternal grandfather. He wrote and performed gospel music and attended church. Two years after the assault, he stays home most days unless he has a doctor’s appointment. He sets his alarm clock to wake himself up every two hours to avoid the nightmares that plague him if he sleeps longer. And he has stopped composing music or going to church. “I ain’t lost touch with God,” he said, “but I’ve lost faith.”
At the heart of the SPLC’s case is the argument that Edwards should be held responsible for the actions of his Klansmen, who went to the fair to recruit new IKA members. During closing arguments today, Edwards contended that he is not accountable for Gruver’s injuries because he did not send his Klansmen to the fair. “Each were adult men who made their own choices to attend the fair that evening,” he said. “I should not be held legally liable for something I did not do nor had any knowledge of.”
But SPLC founder Morris Dees told the jury that Edwards could be held liable under the law. He said Edwards allowed men with serious criminal records to join his group, told them to recruit new members for the IKA, and failed to properly supervise them when they went on recruiting missions. Edwards should have known someone was likely to get hurt, Dees said.
“You have an opportunity to send a message to Edwards — and the young people who may come behind him in groups just like his all over the United States — that decent citizens just don’t stand for this,” Dees said.