Related topics

Jury Orders White Supremacist to Pay $5 Million

October 23, 1990

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ White supremacist Tom Metzger and others must pay $12.5 million in damages to the family of a black man beaten to death by racist ″skinheads″ Metzger is accused of inciting, a jury ruled Monday.

Metzger, 52, a former grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, was assessed $5 million and his White Aryan Resistance was ordered to pay $3 million in damages. His son John, 22, was must pay $1 million in damages.

Metzger was accused in the lawsuit of inciting the murder by sending an agent to Portland to organize skinheads and teach them how to attack minorities.

Metzger, a TV repairman from Fallbrook, Calif., who said his family lives on $1,200 a month, said he couldn’t come close to paying the judgment and probably would appeal.

″I’ll be broke, and under the Constitution I can advocate violence now and nobody can sue me anymore,″ said Metzger. ″So all the things I’m accused of that I didn’t do I can do now.″

The jury decided that Kenneth Mieske and Kyle Brewster, two skinheads who pleaded guilty in the slaying, must pay $500,000 each in damages.

The wrongful-death suit brought by the family of Mulugeta Seraw sought $12.5 million, and the jury awarded the entire amount. It wasn’t immediately clear how the remaining $2.5 breaks down among the defendants.

Seraw, a 27-year-old Ethiopian who planned to attend school in Portland, was attacked by three racist ″skinheads″ as he returned home from a party in November 1988. His head was split open by a softball bat.

″People from this country ... have avenged my son’s death for me,″ Seraw’s father, Seraw Tekuneh, said through an interpreter after the verdict was announced. ″This is the happiest I feel since my son died because I know he has not died in vain.″

The lead plaintiff’s attorney, Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., noted the jury awarded all the damages he sought.

″Back home, we say, ‘It cleans his plow,’ ″ Dees said of the verdict.

″This jury, I believe, has said there will be a new season for justice in the Northwest and the hate and violence as preached by Tom Metzger hopefully will be shut down forever,″ Dees said.

Jurors deliberated about five hours before reaching the verdict on an 11-1 vote.

The Multnomah County Circuit jury found that the Metzgers and White Aryan Resistance conspired to do violence to minorities and that they were reckless in sending Dave Mazzella to Portland as their agent.

Metzger, who served as his own attorney, said the white separatist movement wouldn’t be deterred by the ruling.

The verdict ″will cause the ire of a growing underclass of this country,″ Metzger said. ″They made a fatal mistake, I believe. I think they shot themselves in the foot and as conditions change in the country, I think you’re going to see it.″

The Metzgers never faced criminal charges in the beating.

Mieske pleaded guilty to murder and racial intimidation, in the beating, Brewster to manslaughter and racial intimidation and a third skinhead, Steven Strasser, to manslaughter.

Three years ago, Dees won a $7 million jury verdict against the United Klans of America after two Klansmen from Mobile, Ala., killed a 19-year-old black man.

Judge Ancer Haggerty told the jury that in order to return a verdict against the Metzgers, they must find that the Metzgers, through their agents, substantially assisted or encouraged conduct leading to the fatal beating.

Metzger told jurors that if he is found liable, their own freedoms could be eroded. As an example, he said a juror could be sued for sending a co-worker out for coffee if that person then held up a convenience store.

″Under this loose idea of agency, you’re all in trouble,″ he said.

Metzger attacked the credibility of Dave Mazzella, 21, a former vice president of John Metzger’s Aryan Youth Movement who was the plaintiffs’ star witness.

He contended that Mazzella lied when he said the Metzgers sent him to Portland to stir up the local skinheads, members of East Side White Pride. Mazzella said he since has changed his racist ways.

Metzger noted that other witnesses said Mazzella was the leader of a southern Oregon skinhead group as recently as a few months ago.

″Mazzella exaggerates and wants to be in the spotlight in the center of the stage,″ he said. ″Without Dave Mazzella, there is no case.″

″The only thing you’re here to decide is if there was a meeting of minds to specifically radicalize East Side White Pride and specifically find a black person and kill him,″ Metzger said. ″If that didn’t happen, there’s no case.″

Elden Rosenthal, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in his rebuttal that the First Amendment wasn’t the issue.

″We have no evidence that Tom or John Metzger said, ‘Go kill Mulugeta Seraw.’ We’re not required to prove that,″ he told the jury.

He said the plaintiffs had proven that the Metzgers and Mazzella conspired to create random acts of violence ″and the fact that in one of those random incidents a man died, and that’s why we’re here.″

Metzger said the case is a conspiracy to destroy him. ″Do you want to make me a martyr?″ he asked jurors.

He also claimed he has few assets. ″In many cases I could qualify for the poverty level,″ he said.

Rosenthal said the plaintiffs’ intent is not to become wealthy, but to stop racist violence. The way to do that, Rosenthal said, is to strangle it financially.

″This community, indeed this country, is going to remember your verdict for a long time,″ he said.

Update hourly