Jason Kessler, ‘Unite the Right’ organizer, drops free-speech suit against Charlottesville, police
Jason Kessler, the lead organizer of the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally held in Charlottesville, Virginia, abruptly withdrew on Thursday a federal lawsuit he had filed against the city.
Court documents indicate Mr. Kessler, a self-described “white civil rights activist,” voluntarily dropped a lawsuit he led last year against Charlottesville, former police chief Al Thomas and Virginia State Police Lieutenant Becky Crannis-Curl.
Filed on behalf of Mr. Kessler, 35, white nationalist group Identity Evropa and two neo-Nazi organizations, the National Socialist Movement and Traditional Worker Party, the lawsuit claimed Charlottesville and city and state law enforcement agencies “deprived Plaintiff’s of their right to engage in political speech and expressive activities” during the disastrous “Unite the Right” rally held on Aug. 12, 2017.
“At the time Plaintiffs were ordered to leave the UTR rally they were attempting to engage in speech activity that was protected by the First Amendment. Defendants’ actions injured Plaintiffs in a way likely to chill a person of ordinary firmness from further participation in that activity,” lawyer Elmer Woodard wrote when the suit was filed in November 2018. “Plaintiffs’ constitutionally protected activity motivated Defendants’ adverse actions.”
Neither Mr. Kessler nor Mr. Woodard immediately returned messages seeking comment.
The lawsuit was dropped on the heels of defendants filing motions recently seeking its dismissal, Charlottesville’s Daily Progress newspaper reported.
Lawyers for the VSP lieutenant argued in their motion, the report said, that “there is no supervisory liability for police commanders for unlawful conduct by private citizens, nor is there liability for police commanders when the troopers under their command have not violated any constitutional right.”
Fights broke out on the morning of “Unite the Right” between counterprotesters and participants, including neo-Nazis and white supremacists, and three people ultimately died as a result of incidents related to the rally. Two VSP troopers died in a helicopter crash while monitoring the chaos, and Heather Heyer, a counterprotester, was killed when a “Unite the Right” participant drove a car into a crowd of demonstrators.
James Alex Fields of Ohio was subsequently convicted of first-degree murder for Heyer’s death and faces another trial for related federal hate crime charges.