Following the death and devastation of last summer’s Unite the Right rally, local courthouses have been inundated with criminal and civil litigation.

 

CRIMINAL CASES

Seventeen criminal cases have been brought before area judges. Here is a look at some of them:

 

James Fields Jr.

After the rally was declared an unlawful assembly and anti-racist protesters took to the streets in an impromptu march, a gray Dodge Challenger slowly rolled down the Downtown Mall crossing at Fourth and Water streets. After it first stopped behind a couple of cars waiting for protesters to cross, the Challenger slowly backed up, according to video presented by prosecutors.

All of a sudden, the car shot forward. Shoes, sunglasses and bodies scattered through the air as the car hit the group of protesters.

Heather Heyer, 32, was killed and dozens of others were injured.

Then-20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. was later arrested in the city next to a cracked and broken gray Dodge Challenger. Fields faces charges of first-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, three counts of aggravated malicious wounding, two counts of felonious assault and hit and run.

On June 27, Fields was charged with 30 federal hate crimes: one count of a hate crime resulting in the death of Heyer; 28 counts of hate crime acts causing bodily injury and involving an attempt to kill; and one count of racially motivated violent interference with a federally protected activity, resulting in Heyer’s death. He has pleaded not guilty to all of the charges.

For the federal crimes, Fields could face the death penalty.

He is being held in federal custody at the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail, awaiting both trials. He is scheduled for a three-week trial on the state charges in Charlottesville Circuit Court beginning Nov. 26. A trial date in the federal case has not yet been set.

 

Garage beating

Following the rally, then-20-year-old DeAndre Harris was chased into the Market Street Parking Garage and beaten as he scrambled on the ground to get away. Hit with sticks, shields and fists, Harris was left with a laceration on his head that required staples to close, a broken wrist and multiple cuts and bruises.

Alex Ramos, Daniel Borden, Jacob Goodwin and Tyler Davis were charged with malicious wounding in the attack.

Ramos, Borden and Goodwin all have been found guilty of malicious wounding and will spend several years behind bars. Ramos, 33, was recommended a sentence of six years in prison, Goodwin, 22, was recommended a sentence of 10 years, while Borden, 19, entered an Alford plea — in which he did not admit guilt but said the prosecution had enough evidence to convict him — and faces up to 20 years when he is sentenced in October.

A trial for Davis, 50, who was arrested much later than the other three, has not yet been set. He is set to be arraigned Oct. 4, according to court records. Davis is currently free on bond but confined to his home in Florida.

 

DeAndre Harris

Harris himself was arrested and charged with assault after video reportedly showed him striking a man with a flashlight outside of the garage where he was beaten.

At his trial in Charlottesville General District Court on March 16, Harris told the court that he thought the man — later identified as Harold Crews — was attacking his friend, Corey Long, with a flagpole. He said he thought he was protecting Long from an unprovoked attack.

Harris said he never tried to hit Crews, but rather was aiming for the flagpole to knock it aside.

Harris was found not guilty of misdemeanor assault.

 

Corey Long

As the rally was declared an unlawful assembly and white nationalists streamed out of what is now called Market Street Park, anti-racist protesters yelled at the ralliers and told them to never to come back. Long was standing near the entrance to the park, watching the white nationalists retreat, when he said a group of them approached him in a threatening manner.

Fearing for his life, Long said he sprayed an aerosol can to make them back away. When that didn’t work, he lit the spray to create an improvised flamethrower.

No one was injured, but Long was charged with disorderly conduct.

On June 8, Long was found guilty in Charlottesville General District Court and sentenced to 20 days in jail. He has appealed the conviction to Charlottesville Circuit Court and is scheduled for a Jan. 24 trial.

 

Richard Preston

As the white nationalists left the park, self-identified Ku Klux Klan imperial wizard Richard Preston said he saw Long pointing an ignited aerosol can at people. In a video presented by prosecutors, Preston, 53, brandished a pistol at Long before lowering it again.

Suddenly, Preston pulled the firearm up and aimed it in Long’s direction. He fired the gun and, prosecutors said, the projectile hit the dirt near Long’s feet but did not injure him.

In court, Preston said he fired the gun in self-defense and in the defense of others.

On May 8, Preston pleaded no contest to firing a gun within 1,000 feet of The Park School and was found guilty. He faces two to 10 years behind bars when he is sentenced Aug. 21.

 

Dennis Mothersbaugh

Kendall Bills’ head flew back as 37-year-old Dennis Mothersbaugh hit her squarely in the face. According to video presented by prosecutors, Mothersbaugh kept walking as Bills fell backwards, her eyes shut and her face beginning to bleed.

Mothersbaugh was retreating from the park after the rally was declared unlawful when he saw Bills yelling at the white nationalists to get out of Charlottesville. In court, Bills said she now questions the motives of every stranger who passes her in the street.

On Nov. 3, Mothersbaugh pleaded guilty to assault.

Calling the attack “vicious,” Charlottesville General District Judge Robert H. Downer Jr. sentenced Mothersbaugh to 360 days in jail, with 120 days suspended, and a $1,500 fine. He also will have to complete an anger management course.

 

Failure to leave

Three white nationalists — Nathan Benjamin Damigo, Ramsey Evan McLaren and JonPaul M. Struys — laid on the ground and refused to leave Market Street Park as Virginia State Police troopers tried to clear the area. Because they refused to leave, the men were carried out of the park and charged with failing to disperse.

Despite their attorney, Elmer Woodard, arguing that there was no violence happening inside the park, Downer found all three men guilty on Oct. 13.

Because McLaren simply laid on the ground in civil disobedience, Downer ordered him to pay a $100 fine. He ordered Damigo and Struys to pay $200 fines because he said they pushed back against police before they could be arrested.

All three men are appealing the verdicts in Charlottesville Circuit Court. They are scheduled for a trial on Sept. 7.

 

Press conference scuffle

On Aug. 13, one day after the deadly rally, organizer Jason Kessler attempted to hold a press conference outside of Charlottesville City Hall. As dozens of journalists swarmed around him and the crowd of onlookers began chanting “shame,” Kessler tried to retreat.

As he was making his way back toward City Hall, a group of people rushed him and he was knocked down. Brandon Collins, Jeffrey Winder, Phoebe Stevens and Kenneth Litzenberger were charged with assault.

As she threw her arms around Kessler, Stevens — a Fishersville teacher — yelled, “We love you, Jason.” Stevens said she was concerned about Kessler’s safety and wrapped her arms around him in an effort to protect him. Downer, however, found that she tackled Kessler and sentenced her to 50 hours of community service.

Winder did not admit his involvement in the scuffle, but was found guilty and received a suspended sentence of 30 days.

Collins, of the Public Housing Association of Residents, entered an Alford plea. Downer sentenced him to 10 days in jail, all suspended.

The case against Litzenberger, who was charged with spitting on Kessler, will be taken up in February at the request of the prosecution.

Both Winder and Stevens appealed their verdicts to Charlottesville Circuit Court. Winder will go to trial on Sept. 4, while Stevens’ trial is set for Feb. 14.

 

Christopher Cantwell

On Aug. 11, the night before the Unite the Right rally, scores of white nationalists marched with torches on University of Virginia Grounds. As the group came down the north-side steps of the Rotunda and gathered around the Thomas Jefferson statue, they ran into a small group of students and anti-racist protesters and surrounded them.

Fights started to break out as the white nationalists chanted “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us.” In the middle of the melee, outspoken white nationalist Christopher Cantwell, who later said he felt he was in danger, pulled out his pepper spray and sent a cloud over the crowd.

In the days following the rally, two people accused Cantwell of pepper-spraying them.

Cantwell pleaded guilty in July in Albemarle County Circuit Court to two counts of illegal use of gas. He was sentenced to time served and was banned from Virginia for five years.

 

CIVIL CASES

Numerous related lawsuits have been filed in either state or federal court:

 

Statue struggle

Pro-Confederate monument groups sued Charlottesville in March 2017 over the City Council’s decision that January to take down the city’s statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. The groups argued that the statue is a war memorial and, under Virginia law, it may not be removed.

A judge later granted an injunction preventing the city from removing or altering the statues until the lawsuit is resolved.

Following the Aug. 12 rally, the City Council voted to remove the statute of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, as well. The councilors also decided to cover both statues with black tarps as a sign of mourning for the lives lost at the rally. After Heyer’s death in the car attack, two Virginia State Police troopers — Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper-Pilot Berke M.M. Bates — died in a helicopter crash after monitoring the rally from the air.

The pro-monument groups then amended their suit to include the Jackson statue and also asked that the city be made to take the tarps off the statues. In their motion, the plaintiffs argued that the tarps prevented people from viewing the statues and could damage the statues.

Charlottesville Circuit Judge Richard E. Moore allowed the tarps to stay as long as the city intended them to be temporary symbols of mourning. But, after six months, he ordered in February that the tarps be removed.

The suit currently is scheduled for two possible trial dates: Oct. 26 or Jan. 31 to Feb. 1.

 

Kessler v. Charlottesville

Just days before the Unite the Right rally, the city agreed to approve Kessler’s permit if he moved the rally from Market Street Park to McIntire Park. With help from the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia and the Albemarle County-based Rutherford Institute, Kessler sued the city in federal court, claiming it violated his civil rights by revoking his permit based on his ideas and not on public safety concerns.

U.S. District Judge Glen E. Conrad granted an injunction that allowed the rally to take place in Market Street Park. He said information presented at the hearing indicated the city’s decision was “based on the content of Kessler’s speech” rather than public safety factors.

Some of that evidence included social media communications indicating that members of the City Council opposed Kessler’s political views.

The suit was officially dismissed on Aug. 29.

Later, the city denied Kessler a permit to hold an anniversary rally in Market Street Park, citing concerns about public safety. In March, Kessler again sued the city in federal court, arguing that it violated his First Amendment rights and that the location is critical to the message of the rally: to protest the City Council’s decision to remove the statues of Lee and Jackson and to rename the parks.

Kessler eventually dropped his appeal of the city’s permit denial. He is now planning for the rally to take place in Washington, D.C., on Sunday.

 

Counter-protesters v. rally organizers

In October, a group of area residents sued Kessler and other key participants of the Unite the Right rally.

The suit alleges that Kessler, Fields, Cantwell, Richard Spencer, Michael Peinovich, Elliot Kline, Jeff Schoep, Matthew Heimbach, Matthew Parrott, Robert “Azzmador” Ray, Nathan Damigo, Michael Hill, Michael Tubbs, the League of the South, Identity Evropa, the National Socialist Movement, the National Front, the Traditionalist Worker Party and Vanguard America conspired to bring violence and terror to Charlottesville under the pretense of holding a political rally.

It alleges that the defendants — whom plaintiffs call the “masterminds” of the torch-lit march on Aug. 11 at UVa and the rally on Aug. 12 downtown — planned and promoted the violent acts that occurred that weekend.

On July 9, a federal judge dismissed some aspects of the case, including defendant Peinovich — identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a white nationalist — from the suit entirely. Plaintiff Hannah Pearce also was dismissed from the suit.

Plaintiffs Elizabeth Sines, Seth Wispelwey, Marcus Martin, Marissa Blair, April Muñiz and Chelsea Alvarado were dismissed from just one of the counts, in which they said the defendants violated Virginia’s hate crime statute by engaging in violence motivated by racial or religious animosity.

Other plaintiffs who were not dismissed from any of the claims are Natalie Romero and Tyler Magill.

The suit is set to go to trial on July 8, 2019.

 

Washington sisters

Three days after the deadly rally, two victims of the car attack filed a lawsuit in Charlottesville Circuit Court against Kessler, Fields, Spencer and 30 other groups and individuals.

Tadrint and Micah Washington, who were in a car that was hit during the attack, are seeking $3 million in damages.

The sisters — who said they did not take part in any protesting that day — were on their way home when they found themselves being detoured down Fourth Street Southeast. They stopped at the intersection of Fourth and East Water streets to let a large group of protesters cross the street.

When the Dodge Challenger flew down Fourth Street, it slammed into the sisters’ vehicle and the two were thrown into the dashboard and windshield and suffered serious injuries.

The suit has not moved forward since being filed.

 

Militias not welcomed

In October, the city and several local businesses joined a lawsuit against white supremacists and private militia groups that was brought by Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.

The suit, filed in Charlottesville Circuit Court, alleged the groups violated state laws against private militias that act outside of law enforcement.

The suit has since been settled after all of the defendants in the case — Kessler, Kline, Heimbach, the National Socialist Movement, the Pennsylvania Light Foot Militia, the New York Light Foot Militia, the III% People’s Militia of Maryland, the League of the South and Redneck Revolt — signed consent decrees, agreeing to never return to Charlottesville in groups of two or more while carrying weapons.

 

Gilmore v. Infowars

When Brennan Gilmore, a local activist, started filming a group of anti-racist protesters walking through the intersection of Fourth and Water streets on Aug. 12, he never imagined that he would capture the deadly car attack, he said.

After he posted the video to Twitter, however, he was inundated with threats from people who believed he had helped to orchestrate the incident.

In March, with the help of Georgetown Law’s Civil Rights Clinic, Gilmore filed a defamation suit in federal court in Charlottesville against Alex Jones, Infowars LLC, Free Speech Systems LLC, Lee Stranahan, Lee Ann McAdoo, Scott Creighton, James Hoft, Derrick Wilburn and former Rep. Allen B. West, R-Ga.

Gilmore alleges that Jones and other reporters on Jones’ right-wing TV show perpetuated conspiracy theories about him that led to people sending him death threats. Gilmore said Jones and the other defendants posted false statements about him on their websites.

The defendants have since filed motions to dismiss the suit and a hearing has been set for Nov. 13.

 

 ‘Malicious prosecution’

After he was arrested and charged with illegal use of gas following the Aug. 11 torch-lit march at UVa, Cantwell sued in federal court Emily Gorcenski and Kristopher Goad — the reported victims — for $1 million for what he said was “malicious prosecution.”

The lawsuit claims Gorcenski and Goad swore out “false and fraudulent criminal warrants against Plaintiff … in an effort to stop his exercise of his rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Constitution of Virginia, also maliciously punish, discredit, vex and harass him.”

Gorcenski and Goad made a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. The two sides also held a settlement conference on July 13, but an agreement was not reached. The case was put on hold by the federal judge pending the outcome of Cantwell’s criminal case. Nothing further has been filed.

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