Plaintiffs in a major Unite the Right rally lawsuit again are seeking sanctions against Matthew Heimbach, alleging the defendant acted in bad faith to deprive them of evidence.
The suit was filed in federal court in October 2017 by a group of Charlottesville-area residents against organizers and key participants of the deadly Aug. 12, 2017, white supremacist rally downtown and preceding-day torch rally at the University of Virginia.
The supplemental motion for sanctions against Heimbach was filed on the fourth anniversary of the rally, which ended with the death of anti-racist protester Heather Heyer.
The lawsuit has hit several snags on its way to trial, resulting in four defendants being sanctioned and, in one case, an arrest for contempt of court.
Heimbach, who has been associated with the white supremacist groups Traditionalist Worker Party and League of the South, previously has been sanctioned by the court for his failure to provide documents. After receiving financial sanctions in August 2019, Heimbach was more severely sanctioned in May, when he was ordered to pay $12,500 in financial penalties, among other consequences.
Now, the plaintiffs are seeking sanctions in the form of allowing the jury to be instructed that they can draw adverse inferences from certain defendants’ failure to provide all requested evidence and documents.
The plaintiffs already have won adverse inferences against the following defendants: the National Socialist Movement, Robert “Azzmador” Ray, Vanguard America and Elliott Kline, also known as Eli Mosley. These sanctions followed monetary sanctions against other defendants, as well as bench warrants for the arrest of two defendants found in contempt of court.
According to the latest motion, counsel for the plaintiffs have gone to great lengths over the course of discovery to obtain through other measures or defendants what Heimbach failed to provide.
“It is now plain that despite being represented by counsel for more than a year of discovery, Heimbach made no meaningful effort to preserve potentially relevant documents and information, and the vast majority of it simply disappeared,” the motion reads. “For this extensive spoliation, Heimbach offered little more than excuses that border on the absurd, often blaming his family members for destroying critical evidence, while claiming not to recall details that might have aided Plaintiffs in recovering it.”
Per the motion, Heimbach was a “prolific” writer in the white nationalist community and a central organizer of co-defendant Traditionalist Worker Party’s attendance at the Unite the Right rally. At various times during this litigation, Heimbach had three cellphones, one computer, at least nine social media accounts and a tub of hard-copy files, nearly all of which the motions claim he said have either disappeared or become completely inaccessible.
Heimbach previously has blamed the destruction of many of the documents, social media accounts and at least one cellphone on his wife, who he claims did so during a marital spat.
Since the litigation began, the plaintiffs claim Heimbach has only produced a limited set of documents from a handful of select accounts, seven out of at least nine social media accounts, at least three devices and unknown numbers of hard-copy documents.
“The scope of the destruction of Heimbach’s documents, as set forth above, is so staggering that it is almost hard to imagine a more egregious situation justifying the most severe sanctions,” the motion reads.
Given Heimbach’s various failures to provide responsive documents and information, as well “evasive” testimony during depositions, counsel for the plaintiffs have requested the court impose mandatory adverse inferences at trial that Heimbach intentionally spoliated his Android and BV 800 Pro cellphones, his laptop, his Gab, VK and DS social media accounts, and hard-copy documents because he was aware that each device, account and document contained damaging information against him.
“Four years after Unite the Right, there’s been far too little accountability,” Integrity First for America’s executive director, Amy Spitalnick, said in a news release following the motion filing. “We’re committed to bringing these violent white supremacists to justice, no matter how they try to escape liability.”
Heimbach is the second defendant the plaintiffs have requested be sanctioned in the last week. On Wednesday, the plaintiffs filed a motion for adverse inferences against James Alex Fields Jr., who they similarly claimed has not complied with discovery requirements.
The Sines v. Kessler trial is currently set to begin Oct. 25 in Charlottesville’s federal courthouse.