Two dozen White nationalists accused in a lawsuit of violating civil rights laws during a deadly 2017 rally in Virginia have been ordered to turn over their cellphones and other electronic devices so the contents can be used as evidence when the case comes to trial.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Hoppe on Tuesday granted a request by lawyers who filed a lawsuit on behalf of people who were hurt when a car plowed into a group of counterprotesters on Aug. 12, 2017. One woman was killed and at least 19 others were injured.
The order requires the defendants to allow imaging of their computers, cellphones and social media accounts and to turn over copies of communications related to the Charlottesville demonstrations to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.
Some of the white nationalists also have been ordered to sign consent forms allowing the social media platform Discord to produce their communications leading up to the “Unite the Right” rally.
“This is a significant decision because it means we will be able to secure valuable evidence from defendants’ own cellphones and other devices to use at our trial next year,” said Karen Dunn, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys.
Lawyers for the defendants did not immediately return calls seeking comment.
The rally drew hundreds of white nationalists to Charlottesville, where officials planned to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Hundreds more showed up to protest against the white nationalists.
The two sides began brawling before the rally got underway, throwing punches, setting off smoke bombs and unleashing chemical sprays. Later, 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed when a car plowed into a crowd of counterprotesters.
James Fields Jr., 21, of Maumee, Ohio, has been charged with murder in Heyer’s death and also faces separate hate crime charges in federal court. His state trial is scheduled to begin on Nov. 26.
The federal lawsuit accuses the White nationalists of violating state and federal civil rights laws. The plaintiffs include University of Virginia students and others who were injured in the car attack.