RALEIGH, N.C. -- A disabled North Carolina woman is suing the right-wing group Project Veritas and its founder James O'Keefe over how her assault outside a 2016 Donald Trump campaign rally was portrayed in a video.
Jurors in Asheville were sequestered before testimony Tuesday in the federal libel trial expected to last all week.
Shirley Teter, 71, of Asheville, sued O'Keefe, Project Veritas and its tax-exempt social welfare affiliate Project Veritas Action for what her lawyers described as targeting an innocent, private person for "ridicule, contempt, or disgrace." Project Veritas has used disguises and hidden cameras to uncover supposed liberal bias and corruption.
Teter joined a crowd of protesters outside a Trump rally on Sept. 12, 2016, at an arena a block from her downtown Asheville senior housing apartment. The disabled woman was assaulted and knocked to the ground, police said. A South Carolina man was arrested days later, but charges were later dropped.
A month later, Project Veritas Action Fund released an online video purporting to show Democratic operatives describing a plan to incite violence at Trump rallies. The heavily edited video led to Wisconsin-based Democratic activist Scott Foval cutting ties with the Democratic National Committee.
The video, which featured Foval, described plans to position supporters in event locations so they could ask Trump questions while reporters were nearby, Teter's attorneys said in court filings. The video, and a later one focused on Teter, omitted Foval telling interviewers pretending to work for a wealthy donor that Teter's assault "was not preplanned" and "we haven't paid a single person to get beat up at a rally," her attorneys said.
"We stand by our reporting in the video that is the subject of this defamation lawsuit," O'Keefe tweeted on an account confirmed by a Project Veritas spokesman. "We did not alter the meaning of his (Foval's) statements, and we preserved the video recording in its original state. We issued the report because the public has a right to know the issues raised in these videos."
Wisconsin's Republican Attorney General Brad Schimel concluded last year that the secretly recorded videos of Foval revealed no evidence of election fraud or other state crimes.
O'Keefe's attorneys contend Teter became a public figure after speaking to the news media about the assault and so must prove to jurors that Project Veritas published the videos knowing they were false or with reckless disregard for their truth or falsity.
"She used that altercation to advocate against Trump in the media and with activist organizations," defense attorneys said in a court filing. Though releasing the videos, Project Veritas Action "had no intent to defame Plaintiff."
Teter's lawyers said jurors should consider awarding her money damages not only for her injuries but to punish Project Veritas, which rewards employees and raises funds under "a business model that uses deception to produce highly publicized content, without fear of the consequences. These tactics demonstrate reckless disregard for the truth."
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