Klansman Must Pay News Crew $120G

Klansman Jeff Berry, Indiana, KKK, Ku Klux Klan, Jan. 4, 2001
A Ku Klux Klan leader was ordered to pay $120,000 to two television journalists who said he detained them and stole interview tapes because he was afraid their report would include criticism of the Klan.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Roger B. Cosbey ordered Klansman Jeff Berry to pay $60,000 each to reporter George M. Sells IV and camerawoman Heidi Thiel of WHAS-TV in Louisville, Ky. Cosbey ruled last month and the order was made public Wednesday.

Berry is also charged with theft, conspiracy to commit intimidation and conspiracy to commit robbery with a deadly weapon.

Sells and Thiel went to Berry's home in November 1999 to interview him about a rally by his group, the American Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.

After the interview, Berry asked whether they would talk to Brad Thompson, a former member of Berry's group who later denounced the Klan. When Sells said they would, Berry decided he no longer wanted to be part of the story and demanded the interview tapes, the lawsuit said.

Berry and several of his Klan followers allegedly blocked the doors so the journalists could not leave for 20 to 30 minutes. At one point a Klansman entered the house with a shotgun and pumped it, the lawsuit said.

The journalists gave up the tapes and were allowed to leave.

Berry, 47, said he intended to appeal the judge's decision. He had sought to dismiss the complaint, alleging that the Southern Poverty Law Center, which represented Sells and Thiel, had conspired with the news crew and Thompson to deprive him of his freedom of religion.

Berry did not immediately return a telephone call seeking comment.

The 6,000 active Klansmen in the United States are split into more than 50 branches, and Berry's group has the largest membership, though an exact number is not available, according to the law center.

The center has won millions of dollars in past lawsuits against the Klan.

In August, Cosbey ordered Berry to pay $2,481 to Sells and Thiel for not giving a deposition in the lawsuit. Berry said he was too sick to attend, but Cosbey said he did not prove it.