(CN) – The leader of a Ku Klux Klan organization should not have been found liable for the race-motivated assault of a 16-year-old American-born Latino committed by his group’s members, the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled. Ronald Edwards, head of the Imperial Klans of America, must contest the claims again at a new trial.
Jordan Gruver, an American citizen whose father is from Panama and mother is from Kentucky, was attacked at the 2006 Meade County Fair by four members of the IKA, which reportedly has the second largest membership of any Klan outfit.
Jarred Hensley, Andrew Watkins, Josh Cowles and Matthew Roberts were recruiting members at the fair because, as one of the men testified, Meade County is a “redneck county.” They were distributing cards and wearing steel-toed boots with red laces to show they had spilled blood for the white race.
When the group caught sight of Gruver, then 16, they called him “an illegal spic” and a “border hopper.” Watkins threw whiskey into Gruver’s face, and Hensley knocked the boy to the ground. As Gruver lay in the fetal position, the men repeatedly kicked him with their steel-toed boots, breaking his jaw and causing other injuries.
Edwards, the IKA leader who lives in Kentucky, was not at the fair and learned about the attack after police had arrested two of the men.
Gruver settled with Watkins and Cowles, but his case against Hensley and Edwards went to trial.
A jury awarded Gruver $2.5 million, which included $1 million punitive damages, to be paid entirely by Edwards, and $1.5 million in compensatory damages, split 80-20 between Hensley and Edwards.
Edwards, but not Hensley, appealed, arguing that the trial court should have awarded him a directed verdict. The Kentucky appellate agreed, reversing the decision as to Edwards and remanding the case for a new trial.
If the evidence in the new trial is the same as the first, the court found that Edwards should be awarded a directed verdict.
Each judge on the appeals court authored a separate opinion on the controversial case, with Senior Judge David Buckingham writing the lead decision.
“Edwards did not command or direct the assailants to assault Gruver or anyone else,” Buckingham wrote. “He did not direct the assailants to go to the Meade County Fair and had no knowledge that they had done so. The fact that some of the assailants may have also attempted to recruit members for the IKA while at the fair is of no consequence.”
The ruling also states that the trial court correctly allowed Gruver to introduce certain evidence about the defendants’ violent backgrounds, including the assailants’ past criminal records. One witness also testified that Edwards encouraged him, 10 years earlier, to kill the man who would become Gruver’s attorney, Morris Dees.
In a partially dissenting opinion, Judge Michael Caperton wrote that the witness’ testimony should have been barred because it was unduly prejudicial.
Judge Denise Clayton’s opinion, also partially dissenting, asserts that Edwards was not entitled to a directed verdict. Clayton wrote that she would have affirmed the trial court’s decision.
The IKA claims to be a Christian organization, active in 38 states and five foreign countries, that hates “muds, spics, kikes and niggers,” according to the ruling. Edwards lives off of the group’s dues, contributions and merchandise sales, and he sometimes holds IKA functions at his property in Hopkins County, Ky.