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Justice prevails for victims of 2005 racially motivated attack

MJ Olahafa • Feb 04, 2011

On January 31, a hearing was held in Illinois’ Kankakee County Courthouse for a case brought by three young African-American men against four white men convicted of attacking them.

The lawsuit states that while Vantis, Isaiah and Kenyon Coiley were outside a friend’s home in February 2005, an angry mob of white males, including defendants Larry DeLawder, Jeremiah Spainhour, Jason Stinebring, and Richard Rybolt confronted them and then became violent.

“It was a brutal attack. The case shows that despite all the gains we made in race relations, brutal racially motivated attacks like this still happen and they must stop,” said Betsy Shuman-Moore, an attorney with the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, before the hearing. “We hope to obtain just compensation for the Coileys for the physical and emotional suffering they have endured, as well as deter others from committing violent hate crimes, the most extreme form of racism and discrimination.”

And obtain, they did. The judgment for $240,000 in compensatory and $1.2 million in punitive damages was handed down at the hearing by Judge Kendall O. Wenzelman. The judgment may sound like hefty sum, but after hearing what these young men endured, it’s hard to imagine any amount of money would undo the damage.

The attackers shouted numerous racial slurs at the Coileys before beating them with their hands, feet, bricks, knives, a hammer, and other dangerous objects.

The Coileys attempted to flee, but the angry group slashed a tire and jamming a screwdriver in the ignition of their vehicle. Despite being injured, the Coileys were eventually able to free themselves and drive their damaged car to a hospital.

The Coileys have suffered and continue to endure physical and emotional injuries as a result of the attack.

The purpose of the January 31 hearing was for the court to receive evidence on the extent of their injuries and need for punitive damages. It was a final step for the victims to seek justice.

In 2005, a jury convicted Stinebring of felony criminal charges, and in 2006 DeLawder and Spainhour pled guilty to felony criminal charges for the attack.  The court has found DeLawder, Rybolt, and Stinebring in default, determining that they are legally liable for the racially motivated attack. Plaintiffs have asked the court to find Spainhour in default as well.

The Coileys were represented in their lawsuit by pro bono attorneys from Katten Muchin Rosenman LLP; and Betsy Shuman-Moore of the aforementioned Chicago Lawyers’ Committee. For over 35 years, the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee has provided free legal services to challenge discrimination and other civil rights violations.

“We and our clients are extremely pleased with the judge’s ruling in this case, which represents an episode of racist violence that would have shocked the conscience in the 19th century, much less in the 21st,” said Pamela G. Smith, a litigation and dispute resolution partner in Katten’s Chicago office who led a Katten legal team that handled the case. “The judge granted our clients all of the relief they requested and in their eyes, this result offers them a much-needed vindication of our legal system. We hope news of this judgment also sends a very strong message that the people of Kankakee County will not tolerate racial hatred in their community.”

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