An Idaho jury tonight found the leader of the Aryan Nations, his chief of staff and two former guards liable for $6.3 million for an attack on a mother and her son outside the sect’s headquarters.
Jurors, who received the civil case Wednesday evening after six days of testimony, recommended that Victoria and Jason Keenan receive $6 million in punitive damages and $330,000 in compensatory damages. The Keenans said they were chased, shot at and assaulted while searching for a lost wallet on July 1, 1998, in front of the Aryan Nations compound north of Coeur d’Alene.
The 1st District Court jury found that that Richard Butler, the leader of the Aryan Nations and its corporate entity, Saphire, Inc., were negligent in the selection, training and supervision of the security guards who assaulted the Keenans, Jesse Warfield and John Yeager. Butler was not in the courtroom when the verdict was announced; the Keenans hugged each other tearfully.
Bankrupting a Nation In closing arguments Wednesday, attorney Morris Dees, who represented the Keenans suggested $10 million in punitive damages and $1.26 million in compensatory damages as a way for jurors to send a message to hate groups across the nation. Dees, of the Montgomery, Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, had said he hoped the penalty would be severe enough to bankrupt the Aryan Nations. He has won large awards against the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups.
Lawyer Edgar Steele, who represented Butler, Teague and the group, suggested the Keenans be awarded $4,000 to $10,000 each for their distress.
He blamed only two security guards who took part in the attack and said Butler was not responsible. Steele argued that Jesse Warfield and John Yeager were drunk, against regulations, when they attacked the Keenans.
Warfield and Yeager, who represented themselves, briefly addressed the jury Wednesday, taking responsibility for the attack but steadfastly refusing to implicate Butler, 82. Both men are serving prison sentences for the assaults, and a third former guard remains a fugitive.
Purveyor of Hate During the trial, Dees characterized Butler as a purveyor of hate whose vision of America is one of white superiority.
“You are the conscience of this community,” Dees told jurors. “Tell Richard Butler, ‘We don’t believe in your America, Mr. Butler.’”
Steele urged the jury to disregard Butler’s racist, anti-Semitic views.
“He may not be, in your eyes, an attractive man, and you may not like what he says or thinks … but he’s got a right to believe what he wants as long as it doesn’t hurt people,” Steele said.
Last week, a former Aryan Nations security guard told jurors Butler and Teague tried to cover up the sect’s role in the attack on the Keenans. Scott Dabbs dispose of and fabricate evidence after a civil rights lawsuit was filed in January 1999.