Supremacist suit might include punitive damages

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho - A woman and her son can seek punitive damages against the Aryan Nations in a civil lawsuit that alleges the white-supremacist sect's security guards shot at them, a judge ruled.

Victoria and Jason Keenan can amend their lawsuit against Aryan Nations leader Richard Butler and three former security guards to seek punitive damages in addition to unspecified actual damages, Idaho 1st District Judge Charles Hosack ruled Monday.

The Keenans will be able to present witnesses in an attempt to show that the security guards were acting as agents or employees of the Aryan Nations when the Keenans were fired upon outside the sect's headquarters July 1, 1998.

Hosack ruled it is likely that testimony expected during the trial will be sufficient to seek punitive damages. Idaho allows civil juries to add punitive damage awards as a way of punishing defendants.

The Keenans are represented by lawyers from the Southern Poverty Law Center. Co-founder Morris Dees, who has won settlements against the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups, attended the pretrial conference. He has said he hopes the trial, which is scheduled to begin Aug. 28, will bankrupt the Aryan Nations.

Butler, 82, did not attend Monday's pretrial-motions hearing.

His attorney, Edgar Steele, argued that former Aryan Nations security guards Edward Jesse Warfield, John Yeager and Shane Wright were volunteers, not employees or agents of the white-supremacist group.

The guards acted on their own, contrary to a written Aryan Nations policy, Steele told the court.

The Keenans allege their car was chased by a truck carrying the three Aryan guards after it stopped outside the Aryan Nations headquarters near Hayden Lake. Their car was hit several times by bullets.