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Jury Rules on Skinhead Attack

May 27, 2000

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ A jury has ruled that a black man was partly to blame for an attack by white skinheads in a grocery store and awarded him just $53,000 of the $1 million he sought from the store chain.

The all-white jury Wednesday apparently agreed with the store’s contention that the victim made things worse by fighting back. The jury also rejected a claim that the Fred Meyer chain discriminated against the man by discouraging him from shopping at the store after the attack.

``It had absolutely nothing to do with discrimination and the jury supported that,″ said Rob Boley, a spokesman for Fred Meyer.

Velazquez ``Val″ Polk was attacked at an Oregon City store in 1997 by three whites wearing skinhead symbols. One shoved him and made racial insults, and Polk responded by knocking the man down, according to testimony.

Polk said the store detective failed to intervene, despite repeated requests by customers, until his attackers fled in advance of police. The store detective aimed pepper spray in their direction, and ended up spraying Polk and the lone white customer who tried to help him, Polk said.

Polk claimed that Fred Meyer was negligent for failing to provide adequate security, failing to train employees to recognize hate groups and failing to warn him that skinheads were in the store.

The jury found that the store was 53 percent negligent and that Polk was 47 percent negligent. Polk said Friday he believed white jurors found it difficult to put themselves in his place.

``It comes down to a black man alone. Do you help or just watch?″ Polk said. ``And then Fred Meyer tells me it’s my fault for fighting back, when they didn’t help me one bit.″

Two of the attackers were convicted of felony intimidation and other charges. They served jail terms and were ordered to avoid skinhead groups.

Fred Meyer, an 800-store grocery chain founded in Portland, operates in 12 states. It was sold last year to Kroger Co. of Cincinnati.

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