DANVILLE, Va. (CN) – Christopher Cantwell, the high-profile white nationalist arrested in the wake of last summer’s deadly riot in Charlottesville, Virginia, claims in a lawsuit filed Thursday that false statements made to police by anti-fascist protesters led to his wrongful arrest and incarceration.
In a federal complaint filed in Danville, Virginia, the New Hampshire resident’s attorney, Elmer Woodard, says his client was a “mere participant” at the rally and was there to protest the city’s planned removal of a statue memorializing Robert E. Lee. Counterdemonstrators also descended on the city to oppose them.
During the protest Cantwell was trailed by a reporter and videographer from Vice News Tonight and the report made him the face of the white nationalists in attendance.
One person was killed and 19 others were injured after a car driven by an alleged white supremacist plowed into a group of counter protesters in downtown Charlottesville, hours after police broke up violent confrontations between the two groups.
Days later, Cantwell was charged with one count of malicious bodily injury by means of a caustic substance and two felony counts of illegal use of tear gas. He was held in the Albemarle-Charlottesville jail for 107 days until the charges were dropped.
In his complaint, Cantwell claims two of the counter protesters, Edward Gorcenski and Kristopher Goad, whom he identifies as members of ANTIFA, a grassroots anti-fascist organization, lied to police in order to stifle his free speech rights and “maliciously punish, discredit, vex, and harass him.”
As recounted in the complaint, Cantwell was participating in the protest on the grounds of the University of Virginia when he got into a shouting match with several ANTIFA members. He claims he quickly felt outnumbered, at risk of physical violence, and used pepper spray on one individual to defend himself. Cantwell says he was also sprayed with pepper spray.
He goes on to describe a chaotic running confrontation between the white nationalists and the counter protesters, and claims that at one point, tear gas or some other noxious gas was released among a group of ANTIFA members.
He says after the mêlée, the defendants went to University of Virginia police and reported they’d been assaulted with pepper spray. Later, they claimed Cantwell was the person who sprayed them, the complaint says.
Cantwell turned himself in to authorities on Aug. 21. The charges were dropped after defendant
Goad testified he was unsure if it was Cantwell who sprayed him specifically.
“After meeting with [Commonwealth Attorney for Albermarle County Robert Tracci], defendant Goad’s new sworn testimony was that multiple people but not Cantwell had used mace pepper spray in [his face],” the complaint states.
Goad then testified he was “also affected by overspray” from protestors involved in a nearby scuffle. Cantwell says closer review of video from the late night rally reveals the overspray came from ANTIFA protestors specifically, not him.
Similar claims by Gorcenski also failed to hold up, he claims.
“By making false statements under oath, based on tainted information and by communicating this false information to the University of Virginia police, the magistrate and the Albermarle County General District Court, Goad and Gorcenski caused the illegal detention of the plaintiff,” the complaint says. “These actions were motivated by actual malice.”
Cantwell seeks $214,000 in compensatory damages and $700,000 punitive damages.