Friday, October 20, 2017

Charlottesville, local businesses sue over deadly rally

This Saturday Aug. 12, 2017 file photo, an armed militia member stands guard at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.

AP LogoBY SARAH RANKIN

Two newly filed lawsuits seek to prevent the heavily armed bands of white nationalists and militia groups that descended on Charlottesville for a violent summer rally from returning to the Virginia city.

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 August “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 August violence filed a lawsuit Thursday morning in federal court in Charlottesville against a number of rally leaders and organizers, The Washington Post reported .

The event drew hundreds of white nationalists to Charlottesville, as well as hundreds of counterprotesters. The two sides began brawling in the streets before the rally got underway, throwing punches, unleashing chemical sprays and setting off smoke bombs. At least one person fired a gun. Later, a woman was killed when a car drove through a crowd.

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 rights but as members of a “fighting force.”

It asks that they be held in violation of several state laws. Otherwise, the lawsuit says, “Charlottesville will be forced to relive the frightful spectacle of August 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 a Charlottesville law firm. The Charlottesville City Council voted to join the lawsuit in a special session Thursday morning.

Attempts by The Associated Press to reach a number of the defendants Thursday were not successful.

The federal lawsuit takes a different approach, accusing the white nationalists of violating state and federal civil rights laws by creating a menacing environment and inciting violence against people based on their race, religion and ethnicity, according to The Post. It asks for monetary damages and a ban on similar gatherings.


Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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