Charlottesville of­fi­cials, res­i­dents, busi­nesses sue over Aug. 12 rally

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - METRO - BY SARAH RANKIN

A man (right) wear­ing a hel­met with the logo of the Tra­di­tion­al­ist Worker Party, a white na­tion­al­ist group, wore riot gear at the Charlottesville rally.

Two newly filed law­suits against the white na­tion­al­ists and others who de­scended on Charlottesville dur­ing a sum­mer rally aim to pre­vent the type of vi­o­lent chaos that un­folded from hap­pen­ing again.

One of the law­suits was filed Thurs­day in Charlottesville Cir­cuit Court on be­half of the city, lo­cal busi­nesses and neigh­bor­hood as­so­ci­a­tions.

It ac­cuses or­ga­niz­ers of the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally, lead­ing fig­ures in the white na­tion­al­ist move­ment and their or­ga­ni­za­tions, as well as pri­vate mili­tia groups and their lead­ers, of vi­o­lat­ing Vir­ginia law by or­ga­niz­ing and act­ing as para­mil­i­tary units.

It doesn’t seek mon­e­tary dam­ages but asks for a court or­der pro­hibit­ing “il­le­gal para­mil­i­tary ac­tiv­ity.”

“Touted as an op­por­tu­nity to protest the re­moval of a con­tro­ver­sial Con­fed­er­ate statue, the event quickly es­ca­lated well be­yond such con­sti­tu­tion­ally pro­tected ex­pres­sion,” the law­suit

says. “In­stead, pri­vate mil­i­tary forces trans­formed an idyl­lic col­lege town into a vir­tual com­bat zone.”

Sep­a­rately, 11 res­i­dents in­jured in the vi­o­lence filed a law­suit overnight in fed­eral court in Charlottesville against a num­ber of rally lead­ers and at­ten­dees. News of that law­suit was first re­ported by The Wash­ing­ton Post.

The rally drew hun­dreds of white na­tion­al­ists to Charlottesville, as well as hun­dreds of coun­ter­protesters. The two sides be­gan brawl­ing in the streets down­town be­fore the rally got un­der­way, throw­ing punches, un­leash­ing chem­i­cal sprays and set­ting off smoke bombs. At least one per­son fired a gun. Later, Heather Heyer, 32, was killed and 19 peo­ple were in­jured when a car drove into a crowd that was protest­ing the white na­tion­al­ists.

The law­suit filed in state court re­con­structs the events of the day in de­tail, cit­ing so­cial me­dia posts of the de­fen­dants, me­dia ac­counts and doc­u­ments.

It says the white na­tion­al­ist or­ga­ni­za­tions weren’t func­tion­ing as in­di­vid­u­als ex­er­cis­ing their Sec­ond Amend­ment right to self­de­fense but as mem­bers of a “fight­ing force.”

It asks that they be held in vi­o­la­tion of sev­eral state laws, in­clud­ing falsely as­sum­ing the func­tions of peace of­fi­cers. Oth­er­wise, the law­suit says, “Charlottesville will be forced to re­live the fright­ful spec­ta­cle of Aug. 12: an in­va­sion of rov­ing para­mil­i­tary bands and un­ac­count­able vig­i­lante peace­keep­ers.”

The plain­tiffs are be­ing rep­re­sented by the In­sti­tute for Con­sti­tu­tional Ad­vo­cacy and Pro­tec­tion at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity and re­gional law firm MichieHam­lett. The Charlottesville City Coun­cil voted to join the law­suit in a spe­cial ses­sion Thurs­day morn­ing.

“Our com­mu­nity was in­vaded by pri­vate armies on Aug. 12 and lives were lost,” lo­cal at­tor­ney Lee Livingston said in a state­ment. “As we search for an­swers and a way forward to­gether, we ex­pect this suit will unify us on at least one thing — a stand against pri­vate armies in­vad­ing the pub­lic square — and give our pub­lic ser­vants who en­force the law a tool to pro­tect all cit­i­zens who gather in pub­lic places.”

The fed­eral law­suit takes a dif­fer­ent ap­proach, ac­cus­ing the white na­tion­al­ists of vi­o­lat­ing state and fed­eral civil rights laws. It seeks a jury trial and asks for mon­e­tary dam­ages and a ban on sim­i­lar gath­er­ings.

“The aim of this law­suit is to en­sure that noth­ing like this will hap­pen again at the hands of De­fen­dants — not on the streets of Charlottesville, Vir­ginia, and not any­where else in the United States of Amer­ica,” it says.

The plain­tiffs in­clude Univer­sity of Vir­ginia stu­dents, min­is­ters and doc­tors. One suf­fered a stroke; two were struck in the car at­tack.

Their at­tor­neys are Rob­bie Ka­plan, who rep­re­sented Edith Wind­sor in the land­mark Supreme Court case on gay mar­riage, and Karen Dunn, a for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor in Vir­ginia.

White na­tion­al­ist Richard Spencer, a de­fen­dant in the fed­eral law­suit, told The As­so­ci­ated Press he had just learned of it and didn’t have any im­me­di­ate com­ment.

Michael Hill, pres­i­dent of the South­ern na­tion­al­ist League of the South — which is named in both law­suits — de­clined com­ment. No other de­fen­dants in the cases re­sponded to re­quests for com­ment.

Floyd Abrams, a prom­i­nent First Amend­ment at­tor­ney, said the de­fen­dants “will cer­tainly claim that ev­ery­thing they did, ev­ery­thing they said, and ev­ery ac­tion that they took was pro­tected by the First Amend­ment.”

Har­vard law pro­fes­sor Alan Der­showitz, a lead­ing civil lib­er­ties lawyer, cited the First Amend­ment in call­ing the law­suits “very dan­ger­ous.”

“Every­body hates — as I do — what the white su­prem­a­cists did in Charlottesville, and be­cause we hate what they did, we may be will­ing to stretch and bend the First Amend­ment,” he said. “I’m not will­ing to do this. The First Amend­ment was de­signed pre­cisely to pro­tect this kind of un­pop­u­lar and hate­ful ex­pres­sion.” In other de­vel­op­ments:

DeAn­dre Har­ris, the 20-year-old black man who was beaten at the Aug. 12 white na­tion­al­ist rally in Charlottesville, turned him­self in to Charlottesville po­lice Thurs­day af­ter be­ing charged with un­law­ful wound­ing in the con­fronta­tion.

He was re­leased on un­se­cured bond. Ac­cord­ing to the war­rant, the charge was sought by Harold Crews, state chair­man of the North Carolina League of the South.

Three men have been charged with at­tack­ing Har­ris, whose at­tor­ney has said did noth­ing wrong.

Plain­tiffs in a law­suit against the city of Charlottesville to keep the statue of Con­fed­er­ate Gen. Robert E. Lee stand­ing have filed an amended com­plaint.

One week ago, Judge Richard E. Moore gave the plain­tiffs 21 days to file a more com­pre­hen­sive com­plaint to more fully ex­plain how and why the Lee statue should be con­sid­ered a memo­rial to the Civil War and Con­fed­er­ate veterans.

The plain­tiffs on Wed­nes­day filed the amend­ment, which spells out who Lee was in a his­tor­i­cal con­text and why his statue should be con­sid­ered a memo­rial. The new com­plaint also adds the statue of Con­fed­er­ate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jack­son to the law­suit, af­ter the City Coun­cil last month voted to re­move it from Jus­tice Park.

SHABAN ATHUMAN/TIMES-DIS­PATCH

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