Unite the Right car attacker James Alex Fields Jr. has become the latest target of sanctions in a significant Unite the Right rally lawsuit.
Filed about three months after the deadly rally on behalf of various Charlottesville-area residents, Sines v. Kessler targets various key organizers and participants. The suit accuses the defendants of conspiring to plan racially motivated violence at the rally in August 2017.
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. The sanctions primarily have come in the form of allowing the plaintiffs to instruct the jury that they can draw “adverse inferences” from certain defendants’ failure to provide all requested evidence and documents.
The plaintiffs 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.
On Wednesday, counsel for the plaintiffs filed a motion to sanction Fields, similarly seeking adverse inferences.
According to the motion, Fields 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. He has failed to provide routine discovery and has refused to comply with the court’s orders to do so,” the motion reads. “Indeed, more than three years into this case, Fields has not produced a single document to plaintiffs, refuses to answer many of the interrogatories or requests for admission issued to him long ago and has refused to testify in a deposition.”
Included in the motion is a summary of Fields’ lack of cooperation over the course of the litigation. Among the failures to provide requested documents is the allegation that Fields destroyed correspondence “that concerned the August 12, 2017, Rally,” and correspondence from a co-defendant, Vanguard America.
“While his counsel has been professional and cooperative with plaintiffs’ counsel in attempting to obtain compliance with discovery obligations and court orders, neither his counsel nor plaintiffs’ counsel — nor this court — has been able to secure such compliance,” the motion reads. “This has deprived plaintiffs of basic discovery to which all parties are entitled. If not remedied, Fields’ discovery misconduct will severely prejudice plaintiffs’ ability to prosecute their case.”
In addition to the adverse inference jury instruction, counsel for the plaintiffs has requested that the court deem certain facts would have been established if not for Fields’ refusal to comply with discovery.
These facts include: details surrounding the car attack; assertions that Fields espoused violence against African Americans, Jewish people and members of racial, ethnic and religious groups that he perceived to be non-white and their supporters; and that Fields entered into an agreement with one or more co-conspirators to engage in racially motivated violence in Charlottesville.
The plaintiffs also have requested that the court preclude Fields from testifying at trial because “plaintiffs would suffer prejudice if Fields were allowed to testify at trial when he has refused to give testimony during discovery.”
“Four years ago, James Fields and his fellow defendants orchestrated a racist, violent conspiracy in Charlottesville,” Integrity First for America’s executive director, Amy Spitalnick, said in a news release. “No matter how the defendants seek to avoid accountability, we’re committed to bringing these violent extremists to justice. At a moment of rising white supremacy and extremism, this case sends a clear message: there will be consequences for violent hate.”
Fields was convicted in Charlottesville Circuit Court in December 2018 of 10 charges, including the first-degree murder of Heather 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.
The Sines v. Kessler trial is currently set to begin Oct. 25 in Charlottesville’s federal courthouse.