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Trial Day 3 Update: SPLC Wins $2.5 Million Verdict for Teen in Klan Case

BRANDENBURG, Ky. — In a blow to one of the nation’s largest Klan groups, jurors yesterday awarded more than $2.5 million to a teenager who was assaulted by Klansmen at a county fair in rural Kentucky.

The verdict is expected to shut down the Imperial Klans of America (IKA), which has 16 chapters in eight states. “We intend to collect every dime we can on the judgment and do everything within our power to put the Imperial Klans out of business,” said Southern Poverty Law Center President Richard Cohen at a press conference after the verdict announcement.

The SPLC sued IKA leader Ron Edwards of Dawson Springs, Ky., contending that members of his Klan group attacked a 16-year-old U.S. citizen of Panamanian descent because they thought he was an “illegal s---.” Also named as a defendant was Jarred Hensley of Cincinnati, who served nearly three years in state prison for assaulting the teenager at a county fair in northwest Kentucky.

After deliberating for more than six hours on Friday, the jury returned the verdict shortly after 9:30 p.m. The jury found that Edwards had failed to properly supervise the Klansmen who attacked the teenager and that he had encouraged their violence.

The moment was a victory for Jordan Gruver, the boy who suffered lasting physical and mental injuries from the July 2006 assault by Klansmen. “I hope it sends a message to every single one of them that what they do is wrong,” he told the press afterward.

Gruver’s parents, Cindy and Joe Gruver, and 20-year-old brother, Randell Gruver, were in the courtroom when the verdict was announced. Also in attendance were about a dozen racist skinheads who had come to support Edwards and Hensley.

The jury awarded just over $1.5 million in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages to Gruver. Based on the jury’s apportionment of responsibility for Gruver’s attack, Edwards will be responsible for 20% of the compensatory award as well as the entire punitive damages award. Punitive damages are intended to punish a defendant and serve as a deterrent to future misconduct.

Before the verdict announcement, the forewoman said it had not been easy to reach a decision. “It was very emotional for some of us,” she told the courtroom. “We didn’t agree with everything at all times.”

The IKA, which formed in the mid ‘90s, is a particularly dangerous group. Its welcomes violent skinheads and declares on its website that “the IKA hates M---, s----, k---- and n------.” Each spring at its 15-acre compound in Dawson Springs, Ky., the IKA hosts Nordic Fest, a weekend of music and speeches calling for the murder of Latinos and other minorities. The main defendant in the case, IKA founder and leader Edwards (called the “Imperial Wizard” in Klan parlance), arrived at his deposition in February with the words “F--- S.P.L.C.” tattooed on his shaved head.

Besides demolishing the IKA, the SPLC hopes the case will shine a spotlight on the growing problem of hate and violence aimed at U.S. Latinos. Bias crimes against Latinos rose 40% between 2003 and 2007, according to the latest FBI statistics. Furthermore, the SPLC counted 888 hate groups last year, an increase of almost 50% since 2000 that’s been driven by anti-immigrant fervor.

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