As Unite the Right rally car attacker James Alex Fields Jr. pushes back at attempts to sanction him, plaintiffs in a federal lawsuit are attempting to expand sanctions against another defendant.
Filed on behalf of various Charlottesville-area residents in the wake of the deadly 2017 rally, the Sines v. Kessler lawsuit targets more than a dozen key participants and organizers. The suit accuses the defendants of conspiring to plan racially motivated violence at the rally.
The long-winding suit has seen several defendants sanctioned for withholding documents via allowance of adverse inference jury instructions, meaning plaintiffs’ counsel will be allowed to tell a jury that they can interpret the defendants’ actions were done in bad faith.
Fields became the latest defendant to be targeted with these sanctions when a motion was filed against him Aug. 12. The motion for sanctions alleges that Fields, who is currently serving multiple life sentences for the attack and murder of Heather Heyer, has persistently failed and refused to provide routine discovery in this case, disobeyed court orders, destroyed documents and refused to testify in a deposition after seeking multiple extensions.
“Fields’ evidentiary violations are flagrant, repeated, uncured, and inexcusable,” the plaintiffs’ motion reads. “He has failed to provide routine discovery and has refused to comply with the court’s orders to do so.”
However, in a response filed Aug. 20, Fields’ counsel wrote that the part of the jury instruction requested by the defendants “directly contradicts information they have obtained in hundreds of thousands of documents from a myriad of sources.”
The response further argues that Fields’ refusal to answer interrogatories or requests for admission is allowed via his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
According to Fields’ counsel, years of discovery, hundreds of thousands of documents and multiple criminal investigations have failed to show that Fields planned the rally or communicated with any of the co-defendants.
“It will be evident at trial that Fields was an attendee of the rally and nothing more,” the response reads. “Yet plaintiffs ask this court to instruct the jury to the contrary.”
Fields was convicted in Charlottesville Circuit Court in December 2018 of 10 charges, including the first-degree murder of Heyer, after he traveled from his Ohio home to the rally and then drove his Dodge Challenger into a crowd of counter-protesters after the Aug. 12, 2017, rally was broken up by police. He was sentenced in July 2019 to life in prison plus 419 years and ordered to pay $480,000 in fines.
He also was sentenced to 29 life sentences in June 2019 after accepting a plea agreement in a federal hate crimes case. Of those sentences, 28 are running concurrently and the federal sentence runs consecutively with the state sentence.
In September 2019, Fields was transferred to Hazelton Federal Penitentiary in West Virginia, where he has remained since.
While the plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions against Fields remains pending, a recent motion seeks additional sanctions against neo-Nazi defendant Robert “Azzmado” Ray.
The plaintiffs previously have won sanctions against Ray in the form of adverse inferences, and Ray is subject to a bench warrant for his arrest but remains a fugitive.
The latest filing requests that the court deem it factual that Ray committed acts of intimidation and violence in furtherance of a racist conspiracy and deem authentic pieces of evidence including documents, photographs and videos.
Among those pieces of evidence are screenshots of messages sent via the communication service Discord, where Ray was “an active participant on the Southern Front server, where he recruited Unite the Right attendees, instructed them on equipment to bring, and made explicit his violent intentions for the weekend.”
“Ray boasted, for instance, about ‘spen[ding] 50 hours networking and planning with various groups’ working to get ‘everything coordinated to get our guys ssupplied [sic], updated, and secured with a ride to the event,’” the motion reads. “Ray also assured his followers that ‘[t]he plan is the same, gas the k***s, pr war now, plenty of trolling and ulz,’ and that he ‘and some of the other Daily Stormer guys [would be] out front with a big bully squad hogging all the attention & gassing all the k***s.’”
The plaintiffs’ counsel argues in the motion that the harm Ray has caused their clients has grown only more severe as the scheduled trial date approaches and that requiring them to expend additional time and resources to once more attempt to depose Ray “would distract plaintiffs from focusing their energies on trial preparation.”
“Defendants like Ray have tried every trick in the book to avoid accountability for the violence they orchestrated in Charlottesville four years ago,” said Integrity First for America Executive Director Amy Spitalnick in a news release. “With trial just two months away, we remain as committed as ever to bringing these violent extremists to justice.”
The Sines v. Kessler trial is currently set to begin Oct. 25 in Charlottesville’s federal courthouse.