The U.S. Department of Justice must provide documents used in its criminal case against a white nationalist, who with others is being sued in a civil rights complaint over the violence in 2017 in Charlottesville, the lawsuit’s plaintiffs say.
Community members who filed the lawsuit, Sines v. Kessler, against prominent white supremacists, neo-Nazis and hate groups contend DOJ lawyers have without explanation wrongly denied their request for evidence in the investigation of James Alex Fields Jr.
Fields is serving life in prison after pleading guilty last year to federal hate crimes. Fields drove a car into a group of people, authorities said, killing 32-year-old counter-protester Heather Heyer and injuring more than two dozen others. Fields is among the lawsuit defendants accused of engaging in a violent conspiracy to violate the rights of the counter-demonstrators. The lawsuit is set to go to trial in October.
In a motion filed Friday, the plaintiffs’ lawyers want a judge to force the government lawyers to provide in part documents the FBI collected from Fields’ computer and cellphone, as well as recordings of his phone calls while in federal custody. The lawyers filed subpoenas for the documents last September. A month later, according to Friday’s filing, the Justice Department wrote that it “would not be in the best interests of the United States” to provide the information requested.
The plaintiffs tried to locate the documents through other sources, with only limited success. DOJ repeated the denial last month, Friday’s motion said.
“Plaintiffs understand the government’s apparent hesitation to release evidence it has collected in a criminal investigation,” the motion signed by lawyer David Mills reads. “But it cannot arbitrarily refuse to comply with a lawful request for documents, and this is neither a routine case nor a generalized request.”
None of the evidence requested is grand jury material, implicates confidential sources, or jeopardizes federal institutional concerns, Mills added. ”The material is plainly relevant and important to a significant pending civil rights case."
U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Hoppe late this week ordered two other defendants to appear for video depositions in the lawsuit . One of the two, Elliott Kline, was jailed briefly earlier this year after being held in civil contempt for failing to comply with court orders.