Coeur D'Alene, Idaho (AP) -- The Aryan Nations white supremacist group was negligent in the operation of its security force, a federal judge has ruled, clearing the way for a jury to assess punitive damages.
The group appointed a security director who was known to be unstable, dishonest and was suspected of using methamphetamine, U.S. District Judge Charles Hosack said Friday.
If the judge had ruled otherwise, the jury would have been limited to considering only compensatory damages for plaintiffs Victoria Keenan and her son, Jason.
The Keenans seek unspecified damages for a 1998 incident in which they were chased by three Aryan Nations security guards, shot at and assaulted after stopping in front of the group's headquarters north of here.
If the jury awards compensatory and punitive damages, the Keenans could demand the Aryan Nations' assets, mainly the 20-acre compound at Hayden Lake and the group's buildings. Their lawyer, Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center has said he hopes to bankrupt the Aryan Nations.
The judge said Aryan Nations founder Richard Butler and his former staff director, Michael Teague, were negligent in appointing Edward Jesse Warfield as security chief without checking his criminal past.
Warfield and other security guards got drunk, had access to automatic weapons and were "impulsive and irresponsible" under Butler and Teague's supervision, Hosack ruled.
He said he made the finding without regard to the views or philosophy of the Aryan Nations, and would do the same whether the defendant was a "tire factory or a bank."
Warfield and former guard John Yeager were convicted of assaulting the Keenans and are serving prison sentences.
Butler, 82-year-old founder of the Aryan Nations, would not comment as he left the courtroom on the fifth day of the trial.
In testimony Friday, Butler conceded that he is the absolute authority at Aryan Nations headquarters near Hayden Lake, but said he had no knowledge of his guards' actions when they shot at and assaulted the Keenans.
Butler acknowledged that he had directed his security guards to be alert for possible harassment or attack from the Jewish Defense League or a local human rights organization before a July 1998 march.
Under cross-examination by defense lawyer Edgar Steele, Butler was asked about an article he had written in which he said he agreed with Adolf Hitler that Jews are a virus that must be wiped out.
Butler said the passage was "a call to arms" and that Hitler didn't advocate killing Jews, but only called "for removing them from the territory of Germany."
Butler characterized his security teams as unpaid volunteers and said the Aryan Nations, the political arm of the White Identity Church of Jesus Christ-Christian, doesn't have the resources to check the backgrounds of and train its security staff.
Dees has long used lawsuits to destroy the finances of hate groups. In six such lawsuits, the Montgomery, Ala., lawyer has never lost.
In 1987, Dees won a $7 million verdict against a Ku Klux Klan organization over the slaying of a 19-year-old black man in Mobile, Ala., forcing the group to turn over its headquarters building. In 1990, he won $9 million in Portland, Ore., against the White Aryan Resistance in the beating death of a black man by neo-Nazi skinheads.